Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are one of the major pollutants of indoor air. They are emitted as gasses from certain solids or liquids. Concentrations of many VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. Common examples of VOCs that may be present in our daily lives are: benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene, and 1,3-butadiene.
Paints, varnishes and wax, cleaning, disinfecting, and cosmetic products are some among many household utilities that contain organic chemicals. These products may have short- to long-term adverse health effects unless steps are taken to reduce exposure.
What are the health effects of VOCs?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the following are some of the health effects related to VOCs:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
Prolonged exposure to VOCs can cause-
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Can cause cancer in humans and animals.
The EPA also lists the following as key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs:
- conjunctival irritation
- nose and throat discomfort
- allergic skin reaction
Some steps to reduce exposure to VOCs include:
a) Source Control: It is crucial that the occupants of a building remove or reduce the number of products that give off VOCs. One should buy only what they need when it comes to paints, solvents, adhesive and caulks. Further, unused chemicals stored in the home can sometimes “leak” and release VOCs into the air. We should dispose of unused chemicals that are stored in our home or garage. An alternative could also be purchasing low-VOC options of paints and furnishing.
b) Ventilation and Climate Control: Increasing the amount of fresh air in our buildings will help reduce the concentration of VOCs indoors. It is important to increase ventilation by opening doors and windows. We should also use fans to maximize air brought in from the outdoors. Occupants must also open the windows and the doors regularly to reduce the effects of confinement when new furniture or carpeting is installed. Also, chemicals release harmful gasses more in high temperatures and humidity. Therefore, we must keep both the temperature and humidity comfortable as per the standards set by the concerned indoor air professional associations such as ISHRAE or ASHRAE.
c) HEPA Carbon filters: In order to achieve a truly healthy indoor environment, one must also actively remove VOC chemical particles using an air cleaner with appropriate capacity for the room. The air cleaner must be equipped with a HEPA Carbon filter which is designed to actively combat and cleanse airborne hazards like volatile organic compounds.