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 attacks.
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.