What are VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands.
Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes;and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
Sources of VOCs
Household products, including:
- paints, paint strippersand other solvents
- wood preservatives
- aerosol sprays
- cleansers and disinfectants
- moth repellents and air fresheners
- stored fuels and automotive products
- hobby supplies
- dry-cleaned clothing
Other products, including:
- building materials and furnishings
- office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
- graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.
Health effects may include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include:
- conjunctival irritation
- nose and throat discomfort
- allergic skin reaction
- declines in serum cholinesterase levels
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect.
As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics include:
- Eye and respiratory tract irritation
- visual disorders and memory impairment
At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes.