Sensgreen Knowledge Base

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

What Are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

VOC (volatile organic compounds)  are defined as organic chemicals with a high vapor pressure at room temperature, which correlates with a low boiling point.¹ VOCs can cause unpleasant scents, odor, and pollutants. Some of the common examples of VOCs can be listed as  Benzene, Chloroform, Toluene, Xylene, and Ethylene Glycol.

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VOCs and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)

Air pollutants have an influence on comfort and life, and volatile organic compounds can generate adverse effects on human health by causing illnesses or increasing the severity of sick building syndrome (SBS)²

Sick building syndrome is the description of situations where the occupants of the building are experiencing comfort and health effects related to the time they spent in a building, yet neither the cause nor the specific illness can be identified, according to EPA.³ These complaints from the occupants of the building may be localized in a specific area or maybe even widespread through the building.

In most instances, air pollution in indoor areas occurs from the sources inside the buildings. Some of the examples for these sources can be carpeting, adhesives, some wood products, and cleaning agents which can spread VOCs. ⁴ (EPA Indoor Air Facts No. 4 (revised) Sick Building Syndrome)

Health Effects of VOCs

According to Healthlink BC, VOCs can cause various health problems such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin problems. Furthermore, higher VOC concentrations may cause irritation of the lung and damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system. However, long-term exposure effects to low levels of VOC’s are still being researched ⁵

Additionally, EPA found out that indoor tVOC levels are two to five times higher than outside, regardless of the location, industrial or rural areas.⁶ Due to the usage of new materials in the new buildings, VOC particle generation is contributing to the highest level of VOC off-gassing in an indoor environment.⁷

Also, some of the VOCs are considered toxic & carcinogenic compounds. Which means they can potentially cause cancer.

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What Measures Can Be Taken Against VOCs

The first precaution against VOCs is trying to avoid them in the first place. For example, instead of using solvent-based paints, using water-based paints, or storing the compulsory cleaning agents in air-tight containers ⁸ and at separate places where human contact is minimal.

Another measure you can take against VOCs is to increase the ventilation on the premises and regularly maintaining the HVAC systems. Poor ventilation will cause these compounds to build up and cause more trouble.

Most importantly, measuring the VOC levels on your premises and being aware of the high levels is key. By measuring the VOC levels regularly, you will be able to see if your indoor air is safe or not. As stated, exposure to VOCs can be extremely harmful to human health. By monitoring and viewing the data, it is possible to reduce the VOC levels by making educated decisions and creating healthier buildings for the occupants.

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