Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature. The term "organic" indicates that the compounds contain carbon. VOC exposures are often associated with an odor while other times there is no odor. Both can be harmful. There are thousands of different VOCs produced and used in our daily lives.
Many products emit or "off –gas" VOCs. Some examples of VOC emission sources are:
Many studies have shown VOC levels are higher in indoor air than outdoor air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) studies have found indoor VOC levels that were 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors.
Levels of VOC Exposure in indoor air vary widely depending on:
Most studies to date have been conducted on single chemicals. Less is know about the health effects of combined chemical exposure. The best health protection measure is to limit your exposure to products and materials that contain VOCs when possible. If you think you may be having health problems caused by VOC exposure, consult an occupational/environmental health physician who specializes in this area.
Persons with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, elderly, and persons with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more susceptible to illness from VOC exposure.
Some home screening kits are available to measure total volatile organic compound (TVOC) levels and some individual VOCs. These home sampling kits should be viewed as providing a "ballpark" reading of the amount of VOCs in indoor air. Conditions such as ventilation, temperature and humidity can cause VOC concentrations to fluctuate daily.
Prior to testing, conduct an inspection of your home for some common sources of VOCs such as:
Once you determine the probable source of VOCs, steps can be taken to reduce your exposure. If you are unable to determine the source, a professional indoor air quality investigator/industrial hygienist can be consulted.
Most products containing VOCs will off gas within a short period of time, although some will continue to give off trace amounts of VOCs for a long period of time. The best means of reducing VOC exposure is to eliminate products containing VOCs or use low emitting VOC products.
Some steps you can take to reduce your exposure to VOC in the home are: