Don’t inhale until you read this about VOCs!
Are you one of those people who love the smell of a new car? Maybe you’ve gone as far as to purchase a “new car” scented air freshener? Perhaps it’s not the new car smell you like, but something else. I know many people, oddly enough, who actually like the smell of gasoline. These peculiar odors people love so much, come from gases given off from chemicals called VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds. Known as “off-gassing,” organic gases are emitted into the air from numerous products on the market. Some are known to cause adverse health effects.
The varying degrees of gases emitted is highly dependent on the materials used. How long the gases remain airborne depends on ventilation measures taken. VOCs are consistently higher indoors than outdoors, which is exactly why consumers should be aware of types of VOCs in materials used for renovations, new construction, or items stored indoors.
Even a small scale project can wreak havoc in a big way if you do not carefully select items with low chemical emissions. I recently spoke with a woman who experienced the negative effects of off-gassing from a flooring product installed in her home. She told me that she had bamboo flooring professionally installed throughout the second floor of her single family home. Once installed, the bamboo floor looked gorgeous! She could not have been happier with the outcome. That is, until her son started displaying symptoms consistent with exposure to extremely high VOCs. Initially his symptoms could have been confused with seasonal allergies, except they worsened, and his unexplained sore throat did not go away. His symptoms were directly linked to a high volume of Formaldehyde, a known VOC, used in this particular product.
The American Cancer Society categorizes Formaldehyde as a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in making building materials and many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials.
Shortly after the installation, the company acknowledged responsibility and compensated the family for the removal of the bamboo floor and the installation of the new flooring. It was later revealed that the product initially purchased had been recalled and taken off the market due to a high concentration of VOCs. This is not an isolated case by any means and it is quite common. This consumer was astute enough to know that something wasn’t right and quickly investigated the one thing that was newly introduced in the home.
Formaldehyde is just one of thousands of chemical compounds used in products worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, when formaldehyde is present in the air at levels higher than 0.1 parts per million (ppm), some people may have health effects. It is also accepted as a known carcinogen (a cancer causing agent) by expert agencies. Considering this is just one of thousands of VOCs, it’s worth educating yourself on other sources.
What are sources of VOCs?
The Environmental Protection Agency outlines a few items that give off volatile organic compounds that could potentially be a hazard to your health.
Household products, including:
- paints, paint strippers and 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
The EPA also warns of possible health effects:
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
How can I reduce my risk of exposure to VOCs?
There are over 10,000 compounds loosely classified as VOCs. You can limit your exposure by purchasing low VOC products. When purchasing items for home renovations, new builds, or household products, look to see if they are certified as low VOC products. Organizations like Greenseal and Greenguard use third party certification to help guarantee healthier living/work spaces.
There are other ways to limit your risk of exposure to VOCs. Most products have labels with warnings and instructions. If a product label says to use in a well-ventilated area, take it outside. If that is not possible, open windows and increase the fresh air flow into the working space.
Because gases can leak from closed containers, tightly seal containers containing paint or other chemicals and store them in a well-ventilated area. Consider only purchasing items in the quantity needed for a job. This way, you don’t have to store unused paint, paint strippers, aerosol spray paints, or other chemical compounds in your living/working area.
How can I tell if my company workspace or home has high levels of volatile organic chemical compounds?
Not every organic chemical compound is measurable, however, some of the known serious health offenders are. AMD Environmental regularly performs VOC sampling for vapor intrusion and IAQ assessments following government regulatory practices and guidelines. We conduct a thorough assessment to determine types of VOCs and concentration levels. Additionally, our company has accumulated a list of products for consumers to avoid due to high levels of VOCs.
Our employees are fully equipped to provide environmental testing for commercial and residential properties with a prepared outcome analysis. If this is a service you are considering, contact AMD Environmental at (716) 833-0043 or visit www.amdenvironmental.com for more information.
Your health is a priority and you deserve to breathe easier knowing the facts about VOCs in your environment.