Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature and low water solubility. This high pressure is associated with a low boiling point, meaning these chemicals tend to readily evaporate at ambient temperatures. This process is known as volatility.

Certain solids and liquids which contain these organic chemicals emit VOCs as gases, affecting the air quality of both indoor and outdoor spaces, with some VOCs reacting with other gases in the air such as nitrogen oxide, to form air (ozone) pollutants.

Some common examples of VOCs include benzene, ethanol, acetone, butanal and toluene.

Where can VOCs be found?

Volatile Organic Compounds are emitted by a wide range of products which span a variety of industries including construction, cosmetics pharmaceuticals, and chemical. Many common “household” items such as cleaning and disinfectant products, paints, varnishes, adhesives, flooring (including carpets), furniture, and stationery products all contain organic chemicals within their ingredients.

Other areas they can also be commonly found include building materials, tobacco smoke, petrol, diesel and burning wood, to name a few.


Why are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) harmful?

Concentrations of many Volatile Organic Compounds are consistently being measured higher in indoor environments, regardless of location, with studies showing up to 10 times higher levels of common organic pollutants found inside compared to outside. These products can release organic chemicals while being used, and to a certain extent when stored. Elevated concentrations of VOCs can continue to persist in the air long after activity is completed.

With the frequency in which these products are used in both home and work environments, contaminants can be encountered daily, especially from products and technologies for cleaning and disinfection. This includes healthcare environments where infection control practices are in place to reduce the risk of infection but excessive exposure to VOCs can have a negative effect on your health and the environment.

Effects of VOCs do vary depending on the level of exposure and ranges from ears, nose, and throat (ENT) irritation to cancer. Below is a table showing some of the short-term and long-term side effects caused by excessive VOC exposure:

Short-term side effects Long-term side effects
Headaches Asthma
Dizziness Kidney damage
ENT irritation Liver damage
Nausea Cancer
Fatigue Chronic headaches

How to reduce the level of VOCs?

There are some simple steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to volatile organic compounds in the air from source control and ventilation and climate control.  Some examples of steps to take to reduce the level of volatile organic compounds include:

  • Remove or reduce the number of potential sources
  • Store chemicals safely
  • Purchase low VOC options such as paints and furnishings
  • Increase fresh air flow, especially when using these products to reduce concentration of VOCs
  • Reduce temperature and humidity, where possible as chemicals “off-gas” more in higher temperatures and humidity
  • Let new carpet or new building products air outside to release VOCs before installing them

What can Test Labs do for you?

A variety of sensors can be used to measure VOCs in the air for a range of different purposes and chemicals. As part of our microbiological environmental monitoring services, Test Labs use a photoionization detector (PID) to analyse a range of chemicals and report total volatile organic compounds (tVOCs) which can give an indication of the number of harmful compounds in the air.

This process can be used to create a baseline value of either an environment or the number of VOCs released from a product. Get in touch today to learn more about the VOC testing services and methods we can offer to make your workplace or product safer.

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