Recognizing Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Hazards in the Home

Posted on September 12, 2014 in Blog

Volatile Organic CompoundVolatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) represent a large class of carbon-based chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature. Since many modern household products and construction materials contain such compounds, indoor spaces can become toxic living environments, with health effects ranging from mild to severe. While high levels of VOCs can sometimes be detected by a noticeable odor, many compounds have no odor, and others will need to be present in already dangerously high amounts before they are noticed.

Common Sources of VOCs

There are thousands of volatile organic compounds present in contemporary products or produced by daily activities such as cooking or cleaning. Some common examples include:

  • Benzene
  • Acetone
  • Formaldehyde
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Xylene
  • Toluene
  • Methylene chloride
  • Perchloroethylene

Many people probably do no realize just how much common household products and materials can contribute to poor indoor air quality. While many sources include cleaning agents, even seemingly “inert” materials release VOCs into the atmosphere gradually over time, including construction items such as:

  • Composite wood products
  • Carpets and adhesives
  • Paints and varnishes
  • Upholstery fabrics
  • Sealing caulks
  • Vinyl flooring

Common personal and home care products that introduce VOCs into indoor spaces include:

  • Air fresheners
  • Cosmetics
  • Ozone-producing air cleaners
  • Disinfecting and cleaning chemicals
  • Moth balls
  • Dry cleaning
  • Fuel oil and gasoline
  • Vehicle exhaust produced in an attached garage
  • Non-electric space heaters
  • Stored paints and chemicals
  • Cooking oils

Health Effects of Exposure to VOCs

The health risks posed by inhaling VOCs will depend on a variety of factors, including the level of contamination and the frequency and duration of exposure. While acute exposure hazards may cause symptoms within hours or days, long-term exposure even at low levels may only manifest over many years. There are many distinct VOCs that produce different symptoms, but some common warning signs include:

Acute Exposure Symptoms

  • Dizziness
  • Worsened asthma
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Nose, eye, and throat irritation

Long Term Exposure Risks

  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Cancer

Minimizing Household Risk

In order to reduce VOC related health risks, it is a good idea to minimize exposure to materials and products that contain them. Make sure to open windows when using paints, cleaning chemicals, and hygiene products like acetone and certain aerosol products. If you suspect that you may be experiencing VOC-related health issues, look to identify and reduce sources in the home. If problems persist, make sure to consult with your physician in order to rule out an existing illness. If you are unable to determine the likely source of home contamination, let the expert technicians at H2 Environmental provide you with a professional indoor air quality investigation.