Are VOCs Lowering Your Air Quality and Putting Your Health at Risk?

There are numerous factors that influence indoor air quality, from humidity levels to the presence of dust mites. One class of compounds that can lower your air quality, yet often goes overlooked, is volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

VOCs are a group of chemicals that are released into the air by everything from building materials to air fresheners. Here’s a closer look at VOCs, the risks they present to your family and how you can remove them from your indoor air.

What Are Some Common VOCs?

The term “volatile organic compound” technically refers to any organic chemical that easily becomes a gas at room temperature. Thousands of chemicals meet this definition. However, there are a few specific VOCs that are most commonly found in homes and are known to have negative effects on health.

Benzene

Benzene is a VOC that is found in tobacco smoke and may also off-gas from plastic and resin items like carpets and fabric furniture. It is heavier than air, so it tends to sink towards the bottom of the room and may settle on food and water that you later consume.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is slowly emitted from many building materials, including paints and adhesives. The higher the humidity levels in your home, the more formaldehyde you can expect to off-gas into the air.

Perchloroethylene

Perchloroethylene is used in dry cleaning. If you have your clothing or drapes dry cleaned, the residue will slowly be released into your indoor air.

What Are The Health Consequences of VOCs?

Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause symptoms ranging from dizziness, to headaches and nausea. This may occur if you spend a lot of time painting or staining inside a home with poor ventilation. Long-term exposure to lower levels of VOCs is more common, and since this exposure does not usually cause any apparent and worrisome symptoms, it often goes overlooked. 

Inhaling low levels of VOCs over your lifetime can lead to:

  • An increased risk of certain cancers.
  • Damage to your liver and kidneys.
  • Central nervous system damage that results in a loss of coordination, memory impairment, and visual disorders.

Scientists are still researching the many negative health effects of VOCs. Certain VOCs have been linked to specific health problems. For example, benzene is a known human carcinogen that can lead to leukemia and other cancers of the blood. Formaldehyde is also a known human carcinogen linked to blood, lymphatic and brain cancers. Perchloroethylene causes respiratory issues like worsening asthma.

How Can You Keep VOCs Out Of Your Home?

There are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the levels of VOCs in your indoor air. First, make sure you open the windows to let in plenty of fresh air whenever you use paint, stains, adhesives and aerosol products. Throw away partially used containers of chemicals, and try to buy low-VOC formulations of building products whenever possible.

You can also reduce the levels of VOCs in your indoor air by keeping your home’s humidity levels under control. Keep your AC unit running in the summer, as it will remove excess moisture from the air. Consider having a whole-home dehumidifier installed to remove excess moisture on cooler days when you don’t want to run the air conditioning. 

One of the most effective ways to do away with VOCs is to have an ultraviolet air purifier installed. These devices clean your air as it circulates through your HVAC system, removing not only toxic substances like benzene and formaldehyde but also infectious agents like bacteria and viruses.

To learn more about UV air purifiers, or to have one installed in your home, contact the experts at HELP. Cleaner indoor air is essential for your ongoing health and happiness.