VOCs -Why You Should Care, What You Can Do

Why You Should Care:

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Even slightly elevated levels of these airborne chemicals could produce health concerns for people, particularly young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who suffer from allergies and asthma. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of common products. Paints, varnishes, wax and fuels all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, and degreasing products Building supplies, furnishings, office equipment also can contain VOCs. These products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, as they are stored.

VOCs are consistently shown to be higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. EPA's TEAM studies found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas. These studies indicated that while people are using products containing VOCs, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.

Health Effects

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some are suspected or known to cause cancer in human. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include 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.

What You Can Do - 5 Keys to Reducing Exposure:

Keep Ventilated

Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs. Meet or exceed any label precautions. If possible, store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials in an outside storage unit or similarly secluded, ventilated area.

Test Your Air

There are many VOC air tests available. Formaldehyde, one of the best known VOCs, is one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured. Identify, and if possible, remove the source. If not possible to remove, reduce exposure by using a sealant on all exposed surfaces of paneling and other furnishings.

Limit Use

The best way you can limit VOC exposure is to simply eliminate many VOC-based products from your work environment in favor of VOC-free versions. An ever increasing number of maintenance chemical products are now available in non-VOC formulations. Thanks to recent research and technological advancements, many VOC-free products perform even better than their traditional VOC-based counterparts. When there is no VOC-free version available, consider using non-chemical solutions(e.g. integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides). When an insecticide treatment is needed in an area where people or pets will be present, use VOC-free Bio-Eco Insecticide.

Use Properly

Use products according to manufacturer's directions. Read the label and follow them carefully. In addition to the directions, make sure to look for and read any precautions, warnings, and “in case of...” sections on the label prior to use. Provide plenty of fresh air when using these products. Keep children and pets away during use. Never mix products unless directed on the label.

Discard Unneeded Product

Throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals safely. Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step could help lower VOC concentrations in your environment. (Be sure that materials you decide to keep are stored not only in a well-ventilated area but are also safely out of reach of children.) Do not simply toss these unwanted products in the garbage can. Check with your local waste hauler for information about the proper procedures for disposal in your area.

Conclusion:

VOC exposure is consistently higher in indoor environments compared to outdoor due to the wide array of products which emit VOCs. VOCs are known to cause adverse health effects. The health effects varies greatly depending on the type of VOC and the level of exposure. VOC exposure from many maintenance products can be completely eliminated by switching to VOC-free versions which perform equal or better than their traditional VOC-based counterparts. Proper maintenance precautions can significantly reduce overall VOC exposure in the workplace.