While you might not have known it at the time, it’s very likely you’ve come across multiple VOCs or volatile organic compounds, in your life. VOCs are gases that are emitted from various solids, liquids and chemicals.
Everything from white out to wood lacquer can all have VOCs. The problem with these gases, and volatile organic compounds in general is that they can have a variety of detrimental effects, both short and long term, to your health. Here’s what you need to know about VOCs and how to keep yourself safe.
Where can the be Found?
The problem with all volatiles is that they’re found in a surprising amount of places, not just chemicals. Office supplies often have some measure of VOCs present which can include markers and correction fluid such as White Out which bear the telltale, dizzying odor that is the indicator of a VOC. Many household products, in particular cleaning products have chemical components such as xylene, which is an industrial solvent and used in gasoline as well as anti rusting agents. Other products you might use in your home such as paints, varnishes, lacquers are obvious carriers, but even your carpet and cabinets can also be made of with chemicals that produce airborne volatile compounds.
The health risks of VOCs can be split into two different categories, short term and long term effects. The short term effects are often headaches, nausea, lightheaded or dizziness, and “brain fog”. All of which will typically go away on their own after you get some fresh air.
The problem is repeated exposure, or concentration of these fumes can cause some more serious issues. Formaldehyde is used in a wide variety of manufacturing practices is a known carcinogen, which is a chemical agent that can often increase the risk of cancer. Formaldehyde isn’t the only VOC that can be considered carcinogenic, there are up to 31 different known VOCs, all of which can have a long term health risk for repeated or prolonged exposure.
Many of the volatile organic compounds that are present are only temporary and will weaken and fade over time. While there are VOC detectors, one of the quickest ways to determine if any are present is to read the labels on the products you’re using. Anything that has a known VOC will have a warning label, and will caution you to be careful. If there are a high amount of VOCs present in what you’re working with (take paint for example) then fresh air is one of the best ways to reduce the concentration and therefore exposure. Open up the window and get a good breeze going and the VOCs will dissipate more quickly. For added safety or for particularly noxious fumes, use a respirator (commonly found at hardware stores) which will limit both the fumes as well as dust and debris inhalation. While VOC concentration is easier to find in newly built homes, that’s not to say that they won’t be found in existing homes. If you smell a strong odor, especially when working with a chemical or laying out new carpet, make sure you open a window, or go outside to get fresh air. If any strong symptoms are present, seek medical attention immediately, as these may be signs of an intolerance to VOCs. In short, be aware, and be safe in whatever you’re doing.
September 26, 2016