VOCs or volatile organic compounds can be found throughout our homes, schools, and places of work. While we can’t avoid them entirely, let’s explore why we should be aware of them. By being aware we can then look for ways to reduce them when we are indoors.
Best Tips to avoid VOC contamination: Must Check
What are VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are emitted as gases from some liquids or solids which contain carbon. Anything that contains carbon is called organic. Some are inert or stable, while some are volatile and easily break down into other substances. When volatile, they evaporate or “off-gas” at room temperature.
Where are VOCs?
They are found in so many products, often in places where we wouldn’t expect to find them. Here are a few of the hundreds of products that we use indoors that contain VOCs – paints, draperies, pesticides, glues and adhesives, permanent markers, cleaning products, vinyl shower curtains, air fresheners, cosmetics, nail polish, furniture, flooring, and building materials. Not only can these products release VOCs when you are using them, but also when they are stored.
Can VOCs affect my health?
VOCs can impact our health, where some have negligible effects, others only short-term effects, while exposure to some can lead to cancer and even death. Benzene is a known human carcinogen which is in paint supplies, stored fuels, tobacco smoke, and emissions from an automobile left running in a garage. Formaldehyde, styrene, and perchloroethylene are classified as possible human carcinogens and are in many products around our homes. There are two types of exposure: Acute and Chronic.
Where do VOCs come from?
VOCs are found in a wide variety of household products. Just look under the kitchen or bathroom sink and you will probably find many substances which emit some kind of VOC. VOCs are in products as ubiquitous as paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, new carpets and furniture, fragrances and air fresheners, glues and adhesives, disinfectants, and other sources. Now you can see why VOCs are in such greater concentrations inside the house.
So how can VOCs be avoided?
Obviously, VOCs cannot be removable from the home completely – they are simply a part of modern life. However, there are several steps you can take to reduce your exposure to safer and healthier levels.
To cut down on VOC exposure:
Limit your use of air fresheners, fabric conditioners, window cleaning fluids, sprays and aerosols, and dry cleaning.
Avoid using pesticides inside the house.
Look for products without fragrances or dyes, or products for sensitive skin.
When painting, look for paints that are “low-VOC” and try to use these paints and sealants.
Don’t mix household care or cleaning products unless directed on the label.
Ventilate well while using paint or paint strippers, harsh cleaners, and anything else that’s smelly. Briefly throwing open a window while using the product can keep concentrations from building up.
Acute exposure is usually present in hours to days and is based upon a single exposure to high levels of the chemical. The effects can be headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, loss of coordination, fatigue, eye and respiratory tract irritation, nausea, memory impairment, and worsening of asthma symptoms.
Chronic exposure is based upon exposure to small amounts of a chemical over a long time period, from years to a lifetime. The effects can be liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage, and cancer.
Best Tips to avoid VOC contamination
- The US Environment Protection Agency sets out some simple guidelines to reduce the health risks posed by VOCs to people. A lot of it is common sense and not hard to follow.
- Ventilate your house properly. The biggest problem is the build-up of VOCs per billion parts in indoor areas. Open your windows, try not to sell your house off from the outside air. Mixing inside and outside air dilutes VOC concentrations.
- Read the manufacturer’s recommendations about storage. If you have an open paint can leave it in the garage, well away from where people are living.
- If you have any old paints, varnishes, strippers, photocopier ink, or a polish remover that you don’t use, throw them away in a responsible fashion.
- Don’t bulk buy VOC-containing products. You may save a few cents but you are bringing ‘poisons‘ into your living spaces, which should be minimal.
And finally, keep exposure to benzene, methylene chloride and perchloroethylene to a minimum. These are some of the worst VOCs in terms of human health problems. Benzene is present in cigarette smoke, stored fuels and automobile emissions; methylene chloride is present in paint strippers, aerosol spray paints and adhesive removers and; perchloroethylene is present in newly dry-clean materials and fabrics.
Another VOC to watch out for is formaldehyde which is often present in adhesives and furniture varnishes. Formaldehyde has been there to cause allergies in children and respiratory problems in adults. Nowadays there are a few drops of glue and adhesives such as Healthy Bond Adhesive and Sealer which are formaldehyde-free. Fuse strand woven bamboo flooring made by Bamboo Mountain uses a formaldehyde-free adhesive in the process of making strand woven bamboo. Columbia Forest Products use a soy-based adhesive to make their plywood which is formaldehyde-free.
Finally, the best advice to give is to live a bit more ‘organically’. Open your windows instead of using air-con. Give up on air fresheners and air-purifiers. Nails get on just fine without polish; stop using an aerosol can products and; cut back on your dry cleaning. In short, all that stuff knocking around your house with a chemical smell is plain bad for you and seriously bad for your kids. Be especially cautious about cheap furniture and plywood products.
If you have unused containers of these products sitting around, throw them away – even closed containers can leak gases. Make sure you dispose of them safely; you can check with your city or county for household hazardous waste collection sites. For products, you only use occasionally or seasonally, buy in a small quantity that you will use right away. Let new furniture or furnishings air out for a while before bringing them into the home. Or ensure that the room they will be in is properly present.