Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs refer to a group of man made or formulated organic chemical compounds that are utilized in the manufacturing of many common household products.
Volatile Organic Compounds
VOC’s have the common trait of volatility which can lead to the emission of hazardous airborne fumes and/or vapors. Many VOC’s are known or suspected carcinogens. Concentrations of many VOC’s are consistently higher indoors than outdoors. A study by the EPA, covering six communities in various parts of the United States, found indoor levels up to ten times higher than those outdoors – even in locations with significant outdoor air pollution sources such as petrochemical plants.
A wide array of volatile organics are emitted by products used in the home, office school, and art/crafts and hobby activities.
These products, which number in the thousands, include:
- Personal items such as scents and hair sprays.
- Household products such as varnishes, finishes, rug and oven cleaners, paints and lacquers (and their thinners), paint strippers, and pesticides.
- Dry-cleaning fluids.
- Building materials and home furnishings.
- Office equipment such as some copiers and printers.
- Office products such as correction fluids and carbonless copy paper.
- Graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.
Some chemicals may be hazardous to your health during routine use, even though the exposure is only to small amounts in the air or on your skin. Organic solvents affect the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Many are flammable and many are known or suspected carcinogens. Petroleum distillates in polishes and sprays, perchlorethylene in spot removers, mineral spirits in paint thinner and p-dichlorobenzene in moth balls are all examples of organic solvents.
Strong acids or bases are corrosive to skin, eyes, and mucous membranes and can react with other household chemicals. Acids are found in tub, tile, and toilet cleaners and in rust removers. Lye in oven cleaners and hypochlorites in chlorine bleach are examples of high-pH corrosive substances.
Phenols and alcohols are poisonous and flammable chemicals that are the active ingredients in most disinfectant products.
Synthetic detergents, although not highly toxic, are the household chemicals frequently ingested by children. “Real” soaps made from animal fat or vegetable oil are an order of magnitude less toxic. Cleaners may also contain added dyes, perfumes, fillers, aerosol propellants and traces of ammonia and formaldehyde.
Many of these items carry precautionary labels specifying risks and procedures for safe use; some do not. Signs and symptoms of VOC exposure may include eye and upper respiratory irritation, rhinitis, nasal congestion, rash, pruritus, headache, nausea, vomiting, dyspnea, and in the case of formaldehyde vapor, epistaxis. The only way of reducing the risk that these chemicals may pose is to avoid their use altogether.
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