What are VOCs?
VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are substances that contain carbon and
evaporate easily at room temperature, allowing them to get into the air we
breathe. They are used in everything from paints and cleaning fluids to office
equipment and deodorant and are present in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes,
synthetic materials and household chemicals.
What are the adverse health effects of VOCs?
Studies by the EPA and others have found that VOCs are common in the indoor
environment. Levels may be ten to thousands of times higher indoors than
outdoors, ranging from fifty to several hundreds of individual VOCs in a single
indoor air sample.
Many VOCs are irritants and can result in headaches, dizziness, nausea and eye,
nose and throat irritation. EPA studies show that air with high concentrations
exacerbates the symptoms of pulmonary diseases and can increase rates of asthma
VOCs and the Ozone
VOCs are a major contributing factor to ozone, a common air pollutant and public
health hazard. While ozone in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, ozone is just
the opposite at ground level. The atmospheric ozone layer protects us from the
sun's dangerous UV rays, but ground level ozone is a highly reactive gas that
can affects the normal function of the lungs.
Ozone is a difficult pollutant to control, because it is not emitted into the
air. Instead, it is actually formed in the atmosphere through a photochemical process, in
which VOCs react with oxides of nitrogen and sunlight to form ozone.
California was the first state to create restrictions for VOC content in
coatings and paints. Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Texas have already joined
California with regional laws of their own, and it is expected that more states
will follow. Development of a national VOC regulation is currently underway.