Volatile Organic Compounds Testing

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. 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 also 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.

Indoor air investigations can be challenging.  There are many aspects to indoor air quality, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), inorganic compounds, particulates, allergens, comfort factors, etc.  One of the most difficult areas to look at is the VOCs, which are organic chemicals (containing primarily carbon and hydrogen) that vaporize easily at room temperature.  There are thousands of different VOCs in indoor air from hundreds of sources, making both source identification and remediation plans challenging.

Where do VOCs come from?

Many products we have in our homes release or “off-gas” VOCs.

Some examples of sources of VOCs are:

 

Building Materials

  • Carpets and adhesives

  • Composite wood products

  • Paints

  • Sealing caulks

  • Solvents

  • Upholstery fabrics

  • Varnishes

  • Vinyl Floors

 

Home and Personal Care Products

  • Air fresheners

  • Cleaning and disinfecting chemicals

  • Cosmetics

  • Fuel oil, gasoline

  • Moth balls

  • Vehicle exhaust in an enclosed garage

 

Behaviors

  • Cooking

  • Dry cleaning

  • Hobbies

  • Newspapers

  • Non-electric space heaters

  • Photocopiers

  • Smoking

  • Stored paints and chemicals

  • Wood burning stoves

 

Studies have shown that the level of VOCs indoors is generally two to five times higher than the level of VOC’s outdoors. VOC concentrations in indoor air depend on many factors, including the:

  • Amount of VOCs in a product;

  • Rate at which the VOCs are released;

  • Volume of the air in the room/building;

  • Ventilation rate or the area; and outdoor concentrations

 

 

What are the health effects of VOC exposure?

The risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, how long and how often a person breathes it in. Scientists look at short-term (acute) exposures as hours to days or long-term (chronic) exposures as years to even lifetime.

 

Breathing low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems. Several studies suggest that exposure to VOCs may make symptoms worse in people who have asthma or are particularly sensitive to chemicals. These are much different exposures than occupational exposures to VOCs.

 

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