Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. These compounds are chemicals that can be found in many commonplace household products, such as paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and printers. Scented products are often comprised of VOCs.
Many VOCs are human-made chemicals found in industrial solvents, such as tetrachloroethylene, benzene, or formaldehyde, which evaporate quickly at room temperature when released. Products that contain these chemicals can emit VOCs into the air while you are using them or when they are stored. In fact, concentrations of VOCs are consistently higher indoors - often up to 10 times higher than outdoor spaces. Studies show that using products that contain VOCs exposes individuals to high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can remain in the air long after the product has been used. Breathing in VOCs may not be harmful in small doses, but chronic exposure can result in long-term health effects.
Common Sources of VOCs:
- Paints and paint strippers
- Aerosol sprays, cleansers, and disinfectants
- Moth repellents
- Air fresheners
- Stored fuels and automotive products
- Dry-cleaned clothing
- Hobby supplies
- Copiers and printers
- Correction fluids
- Carbonless copy paper
- Glues and adhesives
- Permanent markers
- Building materials (eg. plywood, particleboard)
- Hair spray
Breathing in VOCs may result in health effects including:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Skin problems
Most people are not affected by short-term exposure to low levels of VOCs; however, long-term exposure may lead to health effects such as damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system, and/or cancer.
It's important to reduce your exposure to VOCs whenever possible. This may include avoiding smoking/second-hand smoke indoors, choosing household products that emit lower amounts of VOCs, and keeping your home well-ventilated - especially when working with cleaning products and sprays.
For more tips, check out this article on how to improve the air quality in your home.
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