What is it?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), sometimes known as chemical pollutants, are gases emitted by many of the goods we use to build and maintain our homes. Many of these pollutants are colorless and are odorless at low levels. They can be released into the environment during the use as well as storage of products. While products emit VOCs, the amount tends to decrease with age.

These can be found in indoor sources and activities like:

  • Paint, varnishes, caulks, adhesives
  • Carpet, vinyl flooring
  • Composite wood products
  • Upholstery and foam
  • Air fresheners, cleaning products
  • Cosmetics
  • Fuel oil, gasoline
  • Smoking
  • Dry cleaning, photocopiers
  • Burning wood

Why do we need to monitor VOC levels and contaminants?

Studies show that volatile organic compounds are more concentrated in indoor air than in outdoor air. VOC levels must be kept as low as possible, as they pose severe health risks. Any chemical in the air can have health effects, but it depends on how much is in the air, for how long, and how frequently it is breathed in.

Long term exposure to low levels of VOCs can raise the risk of health issues among susceptible populations such as babies, the elderly, those suffering from allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues. Due to the large number of different VOCs present in the air, exposure can cause a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, breathing difficulties, eye, ear, nose, throat and skin irritations, fatigue, dizziness, and more.

There is also evidence that VOC exposure damages internal organs such as the liver and kidneys. Some VOC compounds may not pose immediate health risks, but they can lead to chronic health risks. Nervous system damage may result from exposure to toxic chemicals such as toluene and xylene. Those who are exposed to toluene for a long period will be affected by neurological disorders, dementia being the most severe. An extended exposure to xylene may result in headaches, extreme tiredness, tremors, impaired concentration, and short-term memory loss. As a result of chronic exposure to chloroform by inhalation, people are at risk for diseases of the liver and nervous system, including hepatitis, jaundice, depression, and irritability.

uHoo follows recommended VOC levels by the World Health Organization (WHO):

0 to 400 ppb: This is the acceptable level of VOC indoors. You should not expect short-term effects such as irritation or discomfort.

400 to 800 ppb: Short-term exposure can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness and irritation of the respiratory tract and the eyes. It is important to identify the sources of VOCs and eliminate them. Check new cleaning items or furniture in the house that could cause VOC levels to go up.

800 to 1100 ppb: Long-term exposure (months to years) to high levels of VOCs can cause liver damage, kidney damage, and cancer. Usually this level of damage will only occur through prolonged chronic exposure to high levels of VOC. Eliminating the source must be done.

What are the benefits of regulating VOCs at home?

Improved Health

Even at low levels, volatile organic compounds can pose serious health concerns. By reducing VOC levels in the home, asthma flare-ups and allergy symptoms can be prevented. Cleaner air has also been shown in studies to improve symptoms such as migraines and bronchitis. Older people could also benefit from improved indoor air quality. Residents of senior living communities reported improved blood pressure and heart rates when air cleaners were used.

Protection From Potential Illnesses

VOCs are among the major indoor pollutants that must be regulated for their long-term adverse effects. Higher quantities of VOCs can induce respiratory irritation. More prolonged exposure to the substance may harm the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. VOCs may also increase the risk of asthma, allergic rhinitis, and eczema in children who have been exposed to higher concentrations. There are also some studies linking VOCs to cancer, and other studies are being carried out to confirm the correlation between VOC exposures of pregnant women and preterm births, low birth weights, and neurological disorders in children.

Protection for the Environment

The breakdown of VOCs in the atmosphere causes them to react with nitrogen oxides, which increases ozone formation. We can control the level of harmful ozone pollution indoors by regulating the level of VOCs.

What can be done to regulate VOCs levels inside the home?

Use Materials And Products That Do Not Emit Or Have Low Levels Of VOCs

There are some construction materials that emit fewer VOCs than others. Choose paints and varnishes with low VOC content. Furthermore, purchase paints, cleaners, and solvents only in quantities that can be immediately used, so that they do not collect dust. Before installing VOC-containing furniture or building materials in your home, consider storing them for at least a few weeks. This allows the gases to escape without harming you. If you are not able to do so, open windows and doors for a few weeks to enhance ventilation.

Do Not Allow Smoking

Secondhand smoke includes a variety of toxins, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can damage your house and create health problems.

Minimize Use Of Scented Products

Because of their close proximity to our bodies and skin, scents that contain hundreds of chemicals, such as VOCs, can have a host of health effects. Aromatic products, such as perfumes, hair sprays, and air fresheners, emit about the same amount of vapors as petroleum from cars. Opt for fragrance-free products to protect your health.

How does uHoo help to improve VOC levels at home?

uHoo can give a reliable real-time measurement of VOC levels and all other critical items in your air so that you can be warned and take appropriate action. It can also measure and monitor all essential air quality indicators, give a real-time risk assessment of viral survival and transmission in the air with the uHoo Virus Index, and interact seamlessly with your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to control your indoor air quality.

References

Nurmatov, U. B., Tagieva, N., Semple, S., Devereux, G., & Sheikh, A. (2013). Volatile organic compounds and risk of asthma and allergy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational and interventional studies. Primary Care Respiratory Journal, 22(1), PS9–PS15. https://doi.org/10.4104/pcrj.2013.00010

‌Bechtel, D. G., Waldner, C. L., & Wickstrom, M. (2009). Associations Between In Utero Exposure to Airborne Emissions From Oil and Gas Production and Processing Facilities and Immune System Outcomes in Neonatal Beef Calves. Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, 64(1), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.3200/aeoh.64.1.59-71

‌Lim, R. H., Arredouani, M. S., Fedulov, A., Kobzik, L., & Hubeau, C. (2007). Maternal allergic contact dermatitis causes increased asthma risk in offspring. Respiratory Research, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1465-9921-8-56

‌Steinemann, A. (2020). The fragranced products phenomenon: air quality and health, Science and policy. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 14(2), 235–243. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-020-00928-1

‌Li, C., Li, Q., Tong, D., Wang, Q., Wu, M., Sun, B., Su, G., & Tan, L. (2020). Environmental impact and health risk assessment of volatile organic compound emissions during different seasons in Beijing. Journal of Environmental Sciences, 93, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jes.2019.11.006

‌Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home – EH: Minnesota Department of Health. (2021). Retrieved April 23, 2022, from State.mn.us website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/toxins/voc.htm#:~:text=Volatile%20Organic%20Compounds%20(VOCs)%20are,the%20indoor%20air%20we%20breathe.

Health Link British Columbia. (2018). Indoor Air Quality: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) | HealthLink BC. Healthlinkbc.ca. https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/indoor-air-quality-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs