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What are VOCs and how do they affect health?

What are VOCs and how do they affect health?

What are VOCs?

Many of the products we use to build and maintain our homes emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), also known as chemical pollutants. When present in low concentrations, many of these pollutants are odourless and colourless. They can be released into the environment not only during the use of products such as concrete coatings but also during their storage. Some products tend to emit fewer VOCs over time.

These can be found indoors as well as in activities such as:

  • Painting, varnishing, caulking, and adhesives
  • Flooring materials, including carpets and vinyl
  • A wide range of composite wood products
  • Foam and upholstery
  • Cleaning supplies and air fresheners
  • The cosmetics industry
  • Oil, gasoline, etc.
  • Tobacco use
  • Services such as dry cleaning and photocopying
  • The burning of wood

Is it necessary to monitor VOC levels and contaminants?

Researchers discovered that indoor air contains more volatile organic compounds than outdoor air. The presence of VOCs poses serious health risks, so they must be kept to a minimum. Chemicals in the air can cause health problems, but the extent, duration, and frequency with which they are inhaled determine how dangerous they are.

Long-term exposure to low levels of VOCs can be harmful to infants and the elderly, as well as those suffering from allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues. Aside from headaches, other symptoms include breathing difficulties, eye irritation, ear irritation, throat irritation, fatigue, and dizziness. Other symptoms may occur as a result of VOC exposure.

Toxic chemicals, such as toluene and xylene, can harm the nervous system. Dementia is the most serious condition that can result from long-term toluene exposure. Excessive xylene exposure can result in headaches, fatigue, tremors, difficulty concentrating, and short-term memory loss. People who inhale chloroform begin to develop hepatitis, jaundice, depression, and irritability, all of which are symptoms of chronic chloroform exposure.

Xtreme Polishing Systems Europe follows recommended VOC levels by the World Health Organisation (WHO):

  • 0 to 400 ppb: VOCs at this level are acceptable indoors. Short-term irritations and discomforts shouldn’t occur.
  • 400 to 2,200 ppb: Short-term exposure can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes, among other symptoms. When the VOC level exceeds 800 ppb, it is necessary to increase ventilation to improve air quality. VOC sources must be identified and removed.
  • 2,200 to 30,000 ppb: Indoors, VOC levels at this level are unhealthy. Short-term exposure has the potential to cause dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination. VOCs can cause liver and kidney damage over time, as well as respiratory, cardiovascular, and cancer diseases. The best way to improve air quality is to eliminate gas-emitting products and increase ventilation.

One question still stands, however. What are the benefits of regulating VOCs at home?

An Improved State of Health

Even at low concentrations, volatile organic compounds pose serious health risks. Reduced VOC levels in the home will help to prevent asthma flare-ups and allergy symptoms. Cleaner air has also been shown in studies to alleviate migraine and bronchitis symptoms. Improved indoor air quality may also be beneficial to the elderly.

Illness Prevention

When regulating VOCs, the long-term negative effects on indoor environments must be considered. When VOCs are present in high concentrations, they can cause respiratory irritation. Those who are exposed to the substance for an extended period of time may develop liver damage, kidney damage, and neurologic damage. Children exposed to high levels of VOCs are also more likely to develop asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema. VOCs have been linked to cancer in some cases, and research is being conducted to confirm a link between preterm births, low birth weights, and neurological disorders in children and VOC exposure in pregnant women.

Keeping the Environment Safe

When VOCs breakdown in the atmosphere, they react with nitrogen oxides, causing more ozone to form. We can reduce harmful ozone pollution indoors by regulating VOC levels.

You may be wondering how you can control the levels of VOCs in your home.

Use Non-Emitting or Low-VOC Materials and Products

VOC emissions from some building materials are lower than those from others. Paints and varnishes with low VOC content should be preferred. Additionally, make certain that paints, cleaners, and solvents are purchased in quantities that can be used right away to avoid dust accumulation. Before installing VOC-containing furniture or building materials in your home, it is recommended that you store them for at least a few weeks. Gases can escape in this manner without causing harm to you. The best way to increase air circulation is to open windows and doors for a few weeks if you are unable to do so.


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