Know Your VOCs

Know Your VOCs

by C.K. Hickey, Eco Coalition Editor

And you thought the air was dangerous outside on your way to work. While most people commonly think of smog when it comes to air pollutants, the fact of the matter is that the air indoors poses significant health risks as well.

Volatile Organic Compounds — or VOCs — are toxic gases emitted by particular solids or liquids. VOCs can be found in a variety of chemical compounds: Paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides along with building materials and furnishings. You know that dizzy feeling you get after spraying insecticide on the ants in your kitchen without opening a window? That’s from VOCs, and the health threat they pose is nothing to sneeze at. Prolonged exposure indoors leads to eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, a loss of coordination, nausea or even damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system.

VOCs aren’t always from places as obvious as a can of Raid, either. If you work in an office, VOCs are emitted from equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids, carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials, which includes glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions. If you suffer from chronic headaches or throat discomfort at work, it might not just be from stress. You’re likely affected by indoor air pollutants.

To help make your work environment a safer place for your lungs, there are a variety of solutions available for reducing exposure to VOCs. Opening windows and keeping the office well ventilated with proper air conditioning systems is a good start. Look for an air purifier with an activated carbon filter, because these absorb VOCs and recirculate clean air. Be aware of paint and cleaning products containing popular VOCs, such as benzene or formaldehyde. Manufacturers sell a variety of “green” paint and cleaning products with reduced VOCs — look for these the next time your building needs cleaning or repainting!

Leave a Reply

Did you know…

Breathing air in highly populated and polluted metropolitan cities can reduce your life expectancy by 2 to 3 years?

70% of toxic waste in U.S. landfills consists of e-waste, items such as hard drives, monitors, servers, etc?

Data centers around the world consume more energy in one year than the entire country of Sweden?

At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortages within the next 5 years?

Over 200 million items of e-waste are thrown away every year in the U.S.?