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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – What Are They and Why Should You Be Concerned?

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

You may have heard the term Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, when discussing air quality, but what exactly are they? Simply put, volatile organic compounds are­ a class of substances that easily evaporate at room temperature. They can be produced as a result of human activity as well as various natural sources. While many of these compounds are benign or even beneficial, such as the scent of flowers or freshly baked bread, others are harmful to human health and the environment. Household items, vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions are among some of the common everyday perpetrators. What’s most worrisome regarding VOCs, is when they accumulate indoors. Homes and workplaces often lack adequate fresh air ventilation, resulting in higher concentrations of these unwanted compounds. Recognizing and getting to know which commonly used items generate harmful VOCs is an important first step on the path to clean healthy air.

Volatile Organic Compounds in Everyday Products

With so many new products and innovations constantly being released, we often forget to take the time to consider what materialsHome VOCs these useful products are actually made of. It is important to think about the possible byproducts or unintended consequences of these materials because they can have a direct impact on our physical health. Many people are unaware that the following items can be sources of potentially harmful volatile organic compounds:

  1. New clothes
  2. Interior decorations
  3. Rugs
  4. Fuel types
  5. Adhesive materials
  6. Paints for artistic use
  7. Materials for crafts
  8. Household cleaners
  9. Grooming essentials
  10. Tech devices

As one could imagine, activities such as smoking tobacco indoors can also be a significant contributor to increased VOC levels. Cooking in an unventilated kitchen is a more surprising culprit, however.

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It’s clear that these compounds are not limited to just a few niche products but rather are deeply ingrained into our daily routines. Despite their widespread presence, public awareness remains shockingly shallow.

Indoor Air Quality and Health Risks

A major reason to be concerned about volatile organic compounds is their direct impact on indoor air quality (IAQ). Studies conducted by the EPA have concluded that people spend an average of 90% of their lifetime indoors; a surprising statistic to many. This is significant considering poor indoor air quality has a direct impact on our health. Elevated VOC levels can contribute to what is often referred to as “sick building syndrome.” In these cases, eye irritation, nausea, and fatigue are typically the first noticeable symptoms. Over time, chronic exposure can lead to severe health issues. Some examples include:

  1. Asthma exacerbation
  2. Kidney damage
  3. Certain types of cancers

Without proper ventilation and air purification, any indoor space is prone to build up these gases. If you’re a homeowner or building manager, it is important to address these ventilation issues because the consequences go beyond simple discomfort.

Environmental Impact of Volatile Organic Compounds

Aside from human health concerns, volatile organic compounds can/will contribute to environmental issues, mainly in outdoor air pollution. When these gases are released into the atmosphere, certain compounds can react with nitrogen oxides, forming ground-level ozone or smog. Along with affecting air quality, ozone can also have detrimental effects on vegetation. Reduced crop yields and declining forests are a resulting problem. Secondary organic aerosols can also be produced from VOCs, which affect climate change by influencing the radiative properties of the atmosphere.

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How to Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds

The potential effects of these chemicals can be a bit frightening, but no need to worry as reducing exposure is pretty straight-forward. There are several different things you can do to reduce volatile organic compounds.

  1. Low-VOC Products – When picking products, a simple first step is to look out for low-VOC or VOC-free labels and choose these products.
  2. Storage – Always safely store and dispose of hazardous chemical containing products. Be sure to follow the manufacturer provided instructions to prevent any unintentional emissions.
  3. Cleaning – Regular cleaning will help in consistently maintaining a favorable indoor environment. Apart from reducing VOC levels, this will also minimize other allergens and unnecessary pollutants.
  4. Proper Ventilation – Improving ventilation is one of the most essential things you can do in your indoor environment. Bringing in an adequate amount of fresh air will reduce the overall concentration of unwanted chemicals. Contact an HVAC professional for recommendations based on your current setup.
  5. Air Purification – Air purification is the surest way to improve indoor air quality. Air purifiers are beneficial because they work to continuously improve the air quality of your environment. They also typically are equipped with sensors to give you an accurate real-time reading of your air quality.

Pro-Cell Technology

VOC Removal techniquesAlong with the previously mentioned tactics, leveraging advanced technologies offers another layer of defense. Pro-Cell is an air purification technology that combines  photocatalytic oxidation and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. This dual-action method is used to effectively break down volatile organic compounds into harmless gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide. Along with VOCs, it also neutralizes other airborne pollutants. Odors, bacteria, viruses, and mold spores can all be handled by devices equipped with Pro-Cell. Its efficacy is often reflected in its ability to purify up to 99% of air contaminants, contributing to a cleaner and safer indoor atmosphere.

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Takeaways

Volatile organic compounds are found in numerous products and environments that we encounter daily. A variety of negative consequences can result from prolonged exposure such as risks to our health and the environment. Awareness of volatile organic compounds and their potential consequences is imperative for making informed choices and taking appropriate actions to minimize exposure. By understanding the sources, their health effects, and environmental impact, we can all adopt strategies and contribute to a healthier, cleaner world. Prioritizing low-VOC alternatives and promoting sustainable practices will not only benefit us individually but also create a positive impact on a global scale.

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