What are Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are kind of complicated. Many people don’t know about VOCs or how they can impact you, which makes sense – there wasn’t a major published study from the EPA until the ’80s! VOCs can have major adverse effects on your health if you’re living in a home with elevated levels of volatile organic compounds. It sounds scary, but it’s actually not so bad once you learn a little bit about what this all means. So, today we’re going to be going over the common volatile organic compounds that might be in your home and what you should be doing to make sure your home is safe.

Defining “VOC”

colorful paint cans that are open inside a homeThe expert on things like this is the EPA. The EPA defines “volatile organic compounds as any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions.” More simply, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic gases that are released from different kinds of chemical liquids or solids and the processes used with them (like burning). Most of these compounds sound like you’re running a chemistry lab in your house, but they are actually from pretty mundane sources like household cleaners, paints, hobby items, aerosols, burning wood, gasoline, and other types of products you likely store and use in your home. Others can be found in office buildings as well, so business owners should pay attention to this guide, too! Businesses often contain sources of VOCs like copiers, carbonless copy paper, glues, ink, and even furniture. Another common source of VOCs is construction – paint, cleaners, adhesives, solvents, wood preservatives – so it’s good to get a test done for VOCs after renovation or construction work inside of your home. So, what can it mean for you when levels of VOCs released from these products are elevated?

Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds

sick person holding a warm compress on their stomachAdverse health effects for different VOCs can range from nonexistent to a higher potential for cancer. Sounds scary, right? There are also short-term effects that can tip you off to something being wrong in your home. These include allergy symptoms, headaches, respiratory issues, fatigue, memory issues, and dizziness. Like anything, the severity of your issues is dependent on your circumstances – so the longer that you’re exposed and the levels of the VOC determine how bad your symptoms can get. The lesser symptoms are more common immediately after exposure to VOCs and can be a good tip off for when to be concerned.

Tips for Reducing Exposure

open window in florida homeHere are the best tips for making sure your home stays safe from elevated VOC levels. While it’s impossible to be VOC-free, long-term problems can be minimized and avoided by taking the appropriate steps to reduce emissions and contact inside of your home.

  • Ventilation is extremely important. VOC levels are always 2 to 5 times higher inside of the home than they are outside, so it’s never going to hurt to open a window if you’re doing anything that releases VOCs. This is most important for using paints or varnishes, doing anything with smoke or butane, cleaning, or doing any kind of construction work. If you can’t ventilate an area properly, it’s vital to take your work outside if you can.
  • Always follow your label instructions. These will include steps and precautions for keeping yourself safe and reducing environmental impact. While these steps might seem frivolous or like extra work, your body and lungs will thank you for keeping them safe!
  • Do not store paints, gasoline, other fuels, paint strippers, and other products that contain benzene or methylene chloride inside of the home. In fact, it’s best to buy these products in limited quantities and properly dispose of partially full or old containers of these products. Gases can escape even from sealed containers, especially if they remain sitting in or near the home, and this will release unwanted VOCs into the house.
  • Get a screening done with a professional company like Sunsation Services. A volatile organic compound screening, or VOC screening, is a great way to see what kinds of VOCs are in your home and what their elevated levels are at. A professional company can advise you on steps to take to minimize exposure and what to do next if you have dangerous levels on any kind of compound in your home.

Are you experiencing symptoms of elevated VOC levels? Have you recently had a renovation or built a new building? Are you worried about what could be hiding in your home? Get more information or contact us today to set up your VOC screening with a professional team.

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