Volatile Organic Compound in Your Environment

Technological advances have helped society improve in many different ways. In some aspects, this has increased our ability to grow and explore, providing improvements that increase the durability and resistance of our materials. In other ways, we are now exposed and reliant on much more toxic chemicals and artificially produced materials that compose our household serving our most pressing needs. Moreover, these chemicals can be found throughout the household in colorless and odorless forms which makes their detection difficult and compromises our control and assessment of their concentration. Most concerningly, these compounds can be found in concentrations that represent a risk to human health and might go unnoticed for a prolonged period of times.

What is Volatile Organic Compound?

Among the many chemicals found in modern household volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are probably the most dangerous compound potentially present. VOCs are chemical compounds that can migrate from the physical state of solid to a gas at very low temperatures and pressure. Basically, VOCs are compounds that can “evaporate” and as they become gas, they also become much more mobile and potentially harmful for the human body.

VOCs can be natural or human-made organic chemicals that are present in almost every environment. For the VOCs produced by industrial processes, or through human activity, specific regulation applies and restricting measures are considered to control exposure to them. Most VOCs are not typically highly toxic but they do have the ability to accumulate in the organism throughout time and compound long-term health effects. In this sense, indoor exposure is of special concern due to the concentrated amounts found indoor and the potential risks of ongoing exposure.

VOCs are found in products and materials that are used indoors for different purposes and can be part of the natural composition of the material or a result of its natural decomposition process as part of the wear-and-tear mechanism. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies VOCs as:

AbbreviationBoiling PointExample
Very Volatile Organic CompoundsVVOC0 – 100°CPropane, butane, methyl chloride
Volatile Organic CompoundsVOC50 – 260°CFormaldehyde, d-limonene, toluene, acetone, ethanol, propanol, hexanal
Semi Volatile Organic CompoundsSVOC240 – 400°CPesticides, fire retardants

When dealing with VOCs, special concern is given to indoor concentrations as these can be several times higher than the concentration found outdoors. In fact, VOCs are closely related to a series of health effects that characterize what is known as the ‘sick building syndrome’, which can be caused by the presence of elevated concentrations of VOCs.

Where can I find VOCs in my environment?

VOCs can be found in several materials that rely on chemical compounds to improve their durability or effectiveness. For example, paints, wood preservatives, air fresheners, cleansers, pesticide, aerosol sprays, fuels, furniture, printers, glues, and adhesives. Thus, VOCs are varied chemicals that can be found in several materials inside the house. The main concern when dealing with them is that they are odorless and colorless being hard to spot and identify without the help of equipment and detection techniques.

How can I control Volatile Organic Compounds in my environment?

Controlling the VOC level in the house involves a detailed process of conscious purchasing. As VOCs level tends to increase above natural due to anthropological VOC inserted in the indoor air, the main route to control their concentration is by conscious shopping. Analyzing labels and reading product description involves keeping an eye for the long list of chemicals that can be released in your environment and harm your family.

Other measures that might help to control VOC contamination in your house include:

  • Increase ventilation throughout the house and air renewal
  • Avoid opening containers of paints and inks inside the house
  • Reduce the use of pesticides inside the house and in the house garden. In this case, ensure that pesticide deposit is not made close to ventilation tubes for the house
  • Avoid buying chemicals in bulk, as the flasks and containers might become a source of VOC in time due to natural wear-and-tear
  • Avoid mixing household care products since the chemicals might interact with one another and emit VOCs

What are the health effects of VOC Contamination?

VOC contamination is characterized by the rapid onset of symptoms and rapid recovery after leaving the environment. Since VOC contamination occurs mostly by inhaling the chemicals, once the individual is removed from the contaminated environment, the levels of chemicals in the body are reduced and the symptoms disappear. This feature is one of the main reasons why VOC are typically associated with sick building syndrome (SBS), which is understood as an environment that promotes health issues for their occupants.

Among the several health effects VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, fatigue, and dizziness. Moreover, due to the toxic feature of some of the VOC chemicals, long-term exposure can cause cancer, damage to the central nervous system among other more serious pathologies.

How can I detect VOC in my house?

VOCs are composed of a number of chemicals that are released in the environment by natural and anthropological practices. Most of them are colorless and odorless but report on some of them presenting complex odor of wine, coffee, and paper which can serve as an initial indication of the presence of elevated level of VOCs in the environment.

However, proper sampling and analysis of the indoor air are recommended for adequate detection and estimation of VOC in your environment. In this case, handheld detectors can provide an initial assessment through rapid mobile chemical analysis of the air in the environment. A more detailed analysis can be carried out through mass spectroscopy quantifying the VOCs independently, helping to determine their source and route of decontamination.

How can IAQ Help?

IAQ counts with a highly qualified team that is capable of properly assessing your environment and detecting the presence of VOCs in your environment. Through several different analysis procedures, IAQ can provide you with the proper guidance and information on the VOC concentration inside your household presenting a detailed report that will help determine the best route for solving your contamination problem. In this sense, IAQ relies on a group of specialized technicians that will carry out sampling throughout the house and pinpoint problematic areas also providing with recommendations to solve each contamination point.

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