What Are Volatile Organic Compounds? VOCs and Your HealthService Champions
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What Are Volatile Organic Compounds? VOCs and Your Health

August 3rd, 2018

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon-containing organic chemicals that get released into the air and can cause a variety of adverse health effects. VOC concentrations are almost always higher indoors due to their presence in many household products combined with poor ventilation.

These common household products all release harmful VOCs into the air while you are using them, and to some extent even when you are not using them.

Increase ventilation and follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using any of these products:

  • paints, paint strippers and other paint-related solvents
  • wood preservatives
  • aerosol sprays
  • cleansers and disinfectants
  • moth repellents and air fresheners
  • stored fuels and automotive products
  • hobby supplies
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticide
  • building materials and furnishings

Health Effects of Poor IAQ

According to the EPA, health effects may include:

  • eye, nose and throat irritation
  • headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
  • damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

Some signs and symptoms :

  • conjunctival irritation
  • nose and throat discomfort
  • headache
  • allergic skin reaction
  • dyspnea
  • declines in serum cholinesterase levels
  • nausea
  • emesis
  • epistaxis
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

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 effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics include:

  • eye and respiratory tract irritation
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • visual disorders and memory impairment

How to Avoid VOCs in the Home

Control the Source

Know what you are bringing into your home. Besides headaches and the other common symptoms of using household products full of strange, hard-to-pronounce chemicals, some of these products contain carcinogens and can cause both short and long-term health effects. Try to avoid scented anything, including candles, air fresheners, and cleaning agents.

For instance, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of flame retardants intended to prevent fires, but they can also cause damage to the brain, liver or thyroid. They may also be carcinogenic. While they’ve mostly been phased out of production, you can still find them in furniture and other products.

Another common cause of off-gassing is formaldehyde, found in many household furnishings.

Think before you buy. Aerosol sprays, painters, and scents (candles, perfumes, cleaning supplies, etc.) can trigger strong asthma reactions.

Other sources of VOCs (sometimes referred to as offgassing) include:

  • new furniture
  • new carpets
  • building materials
  • pesticides,
  • paint and varnish
  • air fresheners
  • art and hobby supplies

When shopping for any of these items, look for Zero and Low VOC products.

Increase Ventilation

It’s an unfortunate situation. For maximum energy savings, we want a tight, insulated home. But, the tighter a building is, the more likely it is to have indoor air quality problems.

As air sits with nowhere to go, contaminants increase, leading to a reduction in indoor air quality. That’s why it is increasingly important to have a mechanical ventilation system in place.

If you have made any significant insulation improvements, speak with a professional HVAC technician about proper ventilation levels.

Air Cleaners and Purifiers

If you don’t have an indoor air purifier, you could be vulnerable to indoor air pollutants, such as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from sprays, cleaners, and other household products.

Take your indoor air quality to the next level with air purification technology, such as Air Scrubber Plus, UV Air Irradiation, and other air cleaners.

In addition to the indoor air quality solutions mentioned above, it’s important to eliminate pollution sources as much as you can and make sure you have the proper amount of ventilation.

Don’t forget to change your air filter!

Learn more about VOCs and your health here.

Contact the indoor air quality experts at Service Champions for your FREE In-Home Air Quality Consultation!

Schedule a Service Now!


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