VOC's and Indoor Air Quality

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VOCs & Indoor Air Quality IAQ

Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, include a wide variety of chemicals in use today. VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and many are known to have potential adverse health effects for people exposed to these compounds in the air they breathe.

Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors than outdoors since they are emitted by a wide array of products found in most homes and buildings. Examples of common VOC sources include: paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleaning supplies, disinfectants and pesticides; air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing; building materials and furnishings; glues and adhesives.

The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effects depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics. Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. During and for several hours immediately after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times background outdoor levels."

Many industrial processes and manufacturing facilities also use a wide range of VOCs during their daily activities. Occupational health and safety professionals are trained to assess workplace contaminants and associated worker exposures to comply with various regulations and to protect workers. There are also indoor air quality professionals who provide VOC testing services for the public.