Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases emitted into the air from products or processes and can be found indoors and outdoors. Some are harmful by themselves, including some that cause cancer. Furthermore, some can react with other gases and form other air pollutants after they are in the air.
Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds
Common sources of these organic compounds indoors are:
- Furniture polish and other wood-finishing products
- Cleaners, including soaps and laundry detergents
- Solvents and thinners, e.g. nail polish remover with acetone or paint thinner
- Aerosols, such as air fresheners and other cleaners
- Smoke from burning stoves or candles, as well as cigarettes
Common sources of these organic compounds outdoors are:
- Factories and other industrial buildings
- Traffic and areas with lots of cars
- Trash or recycling facility
Common sources of these organic compounds in nature are:
- Fires: Whether it be forest fires or smouldering volcanoes, if something is burning, there’s a good chance there are harmful chemicals in the air.
- Cattle farms: Manure is a particularly volatile source of this organic compound.
Impact of VOCs on Health
Limiting exposure to products and materials containing VOCs is best to protect your health. If you think you may have health problems caused by VOCs, try reducing levels in your home. Breathing in VOCs, even at low levels for long periods of time, may increase some people’s risk of health problems.
The risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air and how long and often a person breathes it in. People with respiratory problems such as asthma, children, the elderly and people with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more susceptible to irritation and illness from VOCs.
Common symptoms of short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs include:
- Eyes, nose and throat irritation
- Worsening asthma symptoms
Common symptoms of chronic exposure to high levels of VOCs include:
- Liver and kidney damage
Groups who are at greatest risk include children, seniors, pregnant women and people with existing health conditions, such as asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or bronchitis.
How to get rid of VOCs
VOC exposure is impossible to avoid. But to keep their concentration low indoors, it’s important to know where toxic chemicals come from and how to get rid of them once they’re found.
Eliminating the sources of VOC vapours should be your first step. For example, avoid harsh chemicals and store things like paint, fuel, and chemicals far away from your living space. Choose nontoxic cleaning products and shop for low or no-VOC paints and finishes. Many common household products are packed with VOCs. So, simply removing them is a quick and practical method that will immediately improve your air quality.
Reducing exposure to VOCs indoors
- Increasing ventilation.
- Outdoor, fresh air can help to improve your air quality. Increasing ventilation may be especially beneficial in modern, energy-efficient homes and apartments, which are relatively airtight to save on energy costs but can trap and circulate VOCs.
- Avoiding smoking indoors.
- Choosing low-emission products when possible.
- If you are continually in enclosed spaces with gaseous pollutants, you will be unable to avoid breathing them in, and you may begin to experience adverse health symptoms as a result.
- Increase ventilation when using products such as:
- Cleaning products
- Minimize using scented products, such as plug-ins or aerosol deodorizers (air fresheners).
- Get a True HEPA Air Purifier featuring activated carbon to remove VOCs.
- This type of air filter can remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mould, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm). Coupled with an activated carbon filter that absorbs all unwanted VOCs and other harmful gases, you are guaranteed clean, fresh air.