PRIME Engineering & Environmental Building ServicesTesting Services - Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

“Volatile organic compounds” are substances that contains carbon and that evaporates at room temperature. VOCs include: benzene, methylene chloride, hexane, toluene, trichloroethane, styrene, heptane, and perchloroethylene.

Where do VOCs come from?

VOCs are widely used in household and commercial products. Some cleansers, disinfectants, waxes, glues, cosmetics, dry cleaning products, paints, varnishes and preservatives include VOCs. Gasoline, kerosene and other fuels also contain VOCs. VOCs are also found in cigarette smoke and pesticides.

A number of building and household materials may be sources of VOCs. New carpeting, backing, and adhesives; draperies; wood products that use certain glues, finishes, and waxes in the manufacturing process; and vinyl type flooring and wall coverings may all release VOCs into the air.

What are the health effects?

The ability of VOCs to cause health effects varies greatly. As with other chemicals, the effects of VOC exposure depends on several factors including the type of VOC, the amount of VOC and the length of time a person is exposed.

Exposure to elevated levels of VOCs may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Headaches, nausea, and nerve problems can also occur. Some people do not appear to have any kind of reaction to fairly “low” amounts of VOCs, while other people are fairly sensitive.  Animal studies show breathing some types of VOCs over a long period of time can increase risk of cancer.

Why are VOCs a problem inside buildings?

VOCs can be found indoor and outdoor. Levels of VOCs found indoors can be much higher than those found outdoors. This is because a house or building that doesn’t have enough ventilation does not allow potential indoor pollutants to escape. Outside air naturally dilutes VOCs, and outside exposure to VOCs tends to be more common in urban settings from sources like vehicle exhaust gases.

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