What are VOC's?
Volatile organic compounds (also known as VOC's) are emitted gases that originate from certain liquids or solids. According to the EPA, their numbers are consistently higher indoors (up to 10x higher) than outdoors. VOC's include a variety of chemicals, many of which have short-term and long-term adverse health effects. Health effects from VOC's include fatigue, headaches, damage to central nervous system, memory impairment, and can prompt an asthma attack for those with allergy sensitivities. Examples of products that emit VOC's include paints, chemicals used for cleaning and disinfecting, building materials, office equipment like printers, and more. VOC's have a direct impact on indoor air quality and taking steps to reduce exposure is important to preserve the health and safety of your building and its occupants. Buildings have become more energy efficient and tightly sealed with a push to greater sustainability, which means it's your job to know what VOC's are and how to provide renewed air in buildings.
Control what you can
Keep in mind some VOC's can be measured, like Formaldehyde, which means you can possibly identify and remove the source(s). Many building materials, such as insulation, require Formaldehyde as a catalyst. Thankfully, Formaldehyde-free insulation has become more available, and it will be clearly labeled. There are easy ways to avoid VOC's for better air quality, such as options like low VOC paints. Cleaning chemicals are a big factor in indoor air quality. Always opt for low VOC choices when applicable. Knowing the science behind cleaning chemicals also helps in understanding how you can control levels of VOC's. Keep in mind, third-party certified green cleaning products are not only more sustainable, but also include a lower level of VOC content than traditional cleaners. Specific tasks, such as industrial cleaning and graffiti removal, may require higher use of solvents which frequently means higher levels of VOC's. It is key to take necessary precautions when performing these tasks and to know which of your products contain high levels of VOC's. Wear the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment when dealing with these industrial products and make sure your facility has proper ventilation. Use carbon filters or other technologies on the market to remove VOC's properly and install or operate effective ventilation systems and air cleaners. Know the difference! HEPA filters are effective in removing particulate matter, but not effective at removing VOC's from indoor air. Carbon filters are porous and have a high surface area, which draws VOC's into their pores and traps them. This keeps them out of the air if carbon filters are replaced as they become full.
Steps to reduce exposure:
- Meet or exceed any label precautions with PPE
- Do not store opened containers of unused paints and/or similar materials within your site and provide maximum ventilation while painting
- Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides
- Keep exposure of emissions from products containing methylene chloride to a minimum (paint strippers, adhesive removers, aerosol paint cans)
- Keep exposure to benzene, from environmental tobacco smoke, paints, and stored fuels to a minimum
- Buy limited quantities of harsh chemicals and industrial products with high VOC's
- Retain an air quality company or use staff to measure VOC's on a regular basis to determine the impact of the measures you are taking
- Review certification standards to get ideas for suitable products
- Review products that meet LEED guidelines and look for third-party certifications, as a signpost for suitable products and keep in mind those with asthma and allergies
For more information refer to the EPA link below: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-are-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs#:~:text=Volatile%20organic%20compounds%20(VOCs)%20are,ten%20times%20higher)%20than%20outdoors.