VOC Emissions, Off-Gassing, and Your Family’s Health: What You Need to Know
Certain solids or liquids release volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) as gases. VOC’s are a group of compounds that can have both short- and long-term health consequences. Many VOC concentrations are continuously greater (up to ten times higher) indoors than outdoors. VOC’s are released by a diverse range of items that number in the thousands.
Organic compounds are frequently utilized in home items as ingredients. Organic solvents are found in paints, varnishes, and wax, as well as numerous cleaning, disinfecting cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby goods. Organic compounds are used to make fuels. All of these goods have the potential to emit chemical molecules while in use, and some of them do.
The “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” (Volumes I through IV, completed in 1985) by the EPA’s Office of Research and Development found that levels of a dozen common organic pollutants were 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were in rural or highly industrial areas. According to TEAM research, persons who use items containing organic compounds can expose themselves and others to extremely high pollutant levels, which can linger in the air long after the activity has ended.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) are carbon-based compounds found in a wide range of everyday goods. VOC’s may be found in upholstered and flexible polyurethane foam furniture, such as infant mattresses, as well as carpet, vinyl flooring, adhesives, composite wood, cosmetics, air fresheners, and cleaning goods.
VOC’s have been used widely in products in the United States since the 1940s. Because VOC-containing items are so ubiquitous, you may almost certainly find them in your house right now.
According to a research conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency,
Regardless of whether the residences were in rural or heavily industrial regions, levels of a dozen typical organic contaminants were 2 to 5 times greater inside than outdoors. According to TEAM research, persons who use items containing organic compounds can expose themselves and others to extremely high pollutant levels, which can linger in the air long after the activity has ended. Consumers, scientists, and health care experts are all worried about VOC compounds in our homes for good cause.
Continue reading to learn everything you need to know and how to protect your family.
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How Do VOC’s Get Into Your Home
VOC’s are a large category of chemicals with certain common properties. Importantly, VOC’s are primarily gaseous and vapor-producing at room temperature.
When you bring VOC-containing items into your house, the chemicals might “escape” the chemical bonds of the products.
Off-gassing is the term for this process. Memory foam, automobiles, and other items emit an odour similar to that of a new product due to off-gassing.
VOC’s, along with phthalates, are a major source of indoor air pollution. According to the EPA research mentioned above, indoor air pollution is “typically 2 to 5 times greater than outside levels.”
When you consider how much time you spend indoors – and how much time your children spend indoors – that figure is startling.
Why Are VOC’s Bad For Health
VOC’s aren’t always negative. The issue is that there are thousands of them around the planet.
Some are man-made, while others occur naturally; some are dangerous, while others are generally harmless at low doses. Isoprene, for example, is found in nature. Isoprene is produced naturally by oak and eucalyptus trees, other plants, and people. While it is a possible carcinogen, research and observation show that it requires extremely large numbers to produce harm.
Other VOC’s, even at low concentrations, are more sneaky or blatantly hazardous. VOC’s include benzene and formaldehyde, for example. They’re also carcinogenic for humans.
While there is a lot of study on individual VOC’s and their health impacts, there is less information on the effects of several VOC’s mixed together, which is what we can anticipate in our homes.
VOC’s have been linked to a variety of detrimental health consequences, ranging from eye irritation to cancer, according to scientists.
Short-term exposure to certain VOC’s has been associated to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; skin issues; tiredness; headaches; nausea and vomiting; dizziness; shortness of breath; and asthma symptoms increasing.
Symptoms may include memory and hearing loss, depression, fatigue, confusion, dizziness, feeling drunk or “high,” lack of coordination, chest tightness, shortness of breath, skin rashes, and cracked or bleeding skin, depending on the specific VOC compound, the number or concentration of the VOC, and the duration and route of exposure. Children who have been exposed to high numbers of certain VOC’s may experience Asthma.
“The immediate, significant symptoms seen with high level of VOC exposure are with high level of VOC exposure,” says Dr. Daniel Zoller, a board certified paediatrician specialised in the treatment of infants and hospitalised paediatric patients. The long-term effects of chronic VOC exposure in children, on the other hand, are poorly understood and studied.”
Cancer, lung irritation, liver and kidney damage, and central nervous system damage have all been related to long-term exposure to certain VOC’s.
While certain VOC’s have been proven to cause cancer in humans, others are probable carcinogens that require additional investigation.
Health Effects of VOC’s
Health effects may include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOC’s include:
- conjunctival irritation
- nose and throat discomfort
- allergic skin reaction
- declines in serum cholinesterase levels
Organic compounds vary significantly in their potential to induce health consequences, ranging from highly hazardous to those with no known health effect.
The degree and form of the health effect, like with other pollutants, will be determined by a variety of parameters, including the quantity of exposure and the length of time spent exposed. The following are some of the immediate symptoms that some people have reported after being exposed to certain organics:
- Eye and respiratory tract irritation
- visual disorders and memory impairment
At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes.
- EPA’s Office of Drinking Water Regulations
- U.S. Geology Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program
- Information on VOC’s in Water Sources
VOC’s Pose A Risk For Babies Health
The very young, very elderly, and people with health issues such as asthma may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of VOC’s, as with many substances.
Babies, in particular, are more at risk. Infant crib mattresses have been proven to be a substantial source of VOC exposure for newborns in studies. Young babies not only sleep for more than half of the day, but they also inhale more air per unit of body weight than any other age group.
“This exposure can be cumulative, and can produce issues that don’t show up until later in life,” Dr. Zoller says. According to a 2015 research, excessive VOC exposure throughout childhood increased a child’s chance of developing atopic dermatitis, an allergic skin disease, at the age of three.”
With this in mind, it’s important to take steps to limit your family’s exposure to VOC’s.
How You Can Limit Exposure To VOC’s
Get Rid Of Items That Contain VOC’s
Perform a thorough walk-through of your whole home, noting everything that might be a source of VOC’s.
Paints, solvents, adhesives, varnishes, and caulks, in particular, should be looked for. These goods can leak VOC’s into your home’s air even when they’re kept. Either dispose of them properly or relocate them to a shed or outbuilding if one is available. Only buy what you need in the future so you don’t have to store leftovers at home.
Consider what fragrant items you have on hand as well. More than 100 VOC’s have been discovered in detergents and dryer sheets, liquid soap, deodorants, and shampoos. When it comes to personal care and laundry, a “less is more” philosophy should be followed in terms of the number of items you use, and unscented products should be used wherever feasible.
“Unscented products should be recommended for newborns regardless of VOC inhalation,” says Dr. Zoller. They can also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.”
Check Your Ventillation
Because our homes are carefully sealed for energy efficiency, indoor air quality is frequently poorer than outdoor air quality. Regrettably, this implies that contaminants in the air have nowhere to go.
Open doors and windows frequently to bring fresh air, and use fans to circulate air to buck the tendency.
Doctors advise proper ventilation for a variety of reasons.
“A well-ventilated nursery also has a substantial influence on reducing the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. According to Zoller, “a big research in California found that using fans in the nursery reduced SIDS risk by 72 percent.”
Temperature and humidity are other important factors to consider: chemicals off-gas more under high temperatures and humidity.
VOC’s can be reduced by keeping your house well-ventilated, cold, and dry.
Make Healthier Product Decisions When Purchasing New Products
VOC’s are emitted by carpet, upholstered furniture with foam, and composite wood items, which tend to emit more while they’re new. If you buy VOC-emitting furniture, keep it in a well-ventilated area at initially to avoid trapping VOC’s. Consider buying undamaged old furniture that has had time to off-gas, as well as floor model furniture.
If you’re buying secondhand furniture, keep in mind that several fire retardants used before 2004 are no longer utilized in the US owing to safety concerns. Try to get anything that is newer than 2004/2005, and search for upholstery that isn’t damaged. If you’re thinking about buying a secondhand crib mattress, check out our guide.
Inquire about low-VOC choices when purchasing new products, such as paint and furniture materials and finishes. Look for the Greenguard Gold accreditation, which establishes VOC emission limits and requires independent testing.
Minimize Exposure To Benzine
Benzene is a recognised carcinogen in humans. The following are the primary indoor sources of this chemical:
Tobacco in the environment smoldering fuels
Emissions from automobiles in connected garages
Benzene exposure can be reduced by taking the following steps:
removing smoking from the home, ensuring optimum ventilation when painting, and disposing paint materials and special fuels that will not be used right away
- ASHRAE: Indoor Air Quality Guide, Strategies 5.1 and 5.2
- ASHRAE Standard 189.1-2014, Sections 10.3.1.4 and 10.3.1.4 (b) 1
- California Department of Public Health: Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources Using Environmental Chambers (Emission Testing Method for California Specification 01350)
- California Title 17 ATCM to Reduce Formaldehyde Emissions from Composite Wood Products
- Carpet and Rug Institute: Green Label Plus
- Collaborative for High Performance Schools: High Performance Products Database
- EPA: Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products
- Indoor Air Fact Sheet No. 4 (revised) – Sick Building Syndrome
- Explains the term “sick building syndrome” (SBS) and “building related illness” (BRI). Discusses causes of sick building syndrome, describes building investigation procedures and provides general solutions for resolving the syndrome.
- Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals
- Assists health professionals (especially the primary care physician) in diagnosis of patient symptoms that could be related to an indoor air pollution problem. Addresses the health problems that may be caused by contaminants encountered daily in the home and office. Organized according to pollutant or pollutant groups such as environmental tobacco smoke, VOC’s, biological pollutants and sick building syndrome, this booklet lists key signs and symptoms from exposure to these pollutants, provides a diagnostic checklist and quick reference summary, and includes suggestions for remedial action. Also includes references for information contained in each section. This booklet was coauthored with the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.