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What Are VOCs?

The term “VOCs” is showing up more and more in conversations and articles these days. What exactly are VOCs? It is an abbreviation for “Volatile Organic Compounds.” VOCs are chemical compounds which evaporate and disperse easily at room temperatures. These chemical compounds can contaminate indoor air to a point that they become harmful to humans and pets over extended exposure periods. Typical effects of high levels of VOCs are eye irritation, nose irritation, throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness and asthma exacerbation.

No VOCsWhere do VOCs come from? They are all around us in forms we recognize, but do not recognize the potential danger. They off-gas from paints, moth balls, solvents, vinyl flooring, carpets, adhesives, upholstery, air fresheners, household cleaners, and more. High levels of any single, or combination of VOCs can cause reactions and lead to long term illness. While many chemicals form these VOCs, the most prevalent chemicals would be: benzene, methylene, chlorides, formaldehyde, ethylene and butadiene.

What can be done to correct high levels of VOCs? Concentrations depend on the volume of air, the VOC off-gas rate, and the structure’s ventilation rate. A couple of methods of control should be used. First, identify and when possible, remove the source (e.g. seal paint cans, use environmentally approved cleaners which do not contain VOCs, select products which do not off-gas carbon VOCs). Another method to lower VOC concentration is to increase the volume of air in your house by increasing the indoor ventilation rate. Yes, you could open a window, or you could use a fresh air ventilation system. Use of the ventilation system is the preferred method to provide air changes and conserve energy usage when air conditioning and heating equipment is in operation.

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