What are VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases (commonly referred to as offgassing) from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which are known to have short-term and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.
What are the sources of VOCs?
VOCs are emitted by many products. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, carpet, flooring, plywood, particleboard, adhesives, cabinets, countertops, insulation, paneling and other building products.
What are the health effects?
Several recent studies suggest that domestic exposure to formaldehyde (a commonly occurring VOC) significantly increases the risk of asthma in young children. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include nausea, vomiting, nose bleeds, eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, fatigue, dizziness, allergic skin reaction and dyspnea (shortness of breath).
What are the standards or guidelines?
No standards have been set for VOCs in non-industrial settings, but the federal government has regulated formaldehyde use and exposure. OSHA regulates formaldehyde as a carcinogen. They have adopted a Permissible Exposure Level (PEL) of 0.75 ppm, and an action level of 0.5 ppm. HUD has established a level of 0.4 ppm for mobile homes. Based upon current information, it is advisable to mitigate formaldehyde that is present at levels higher than 0.1 ppm.
What measures can I take to control VOCs?
Use products that offgas lower amounts of VOCs:
» Low and Zero VOC paints, stains and sealers
» Cotton Insulation
» Undyed Wool Carpet
» Cork, Bamboo and Natural Linoleum Flooring
Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
Meet or exceed any label precautions.
Do not store opened containers of unused paints and similar materials inside a building.
Formaldehyde, one of the best-known VOCs, is one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured. Identify, and if possible, remove the source. If not possible to remove, reduce exposure by using a low VOC sealant on all exposed surfaces of paneling and other furnishings.
Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides.
Much of the data on this page was taken from websites of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
For more information, visit:
» United States EPA: Sources of Indoor Air Pollution - Organic Gases (Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs)
» United States CDC: Public Health Statement on Formaldehyde
» United States NCIB/NIH: Domestic exposure to formaldehyde significantly increases the risk of asthma in young children.
» United States NCIB/NIH: Increased risk of allergy in children due to formaldehyde exposure in homes.