Hello! Welcome to this post about VOCs. You may be wondering, “What are VOCs? And how can I reduce my exposure to them?”
Or, you may be like I was before I got my MPH in environmental health science and be like “All that stuff is whatever; I’m sure it’s fine. People live with chemicals and stuff all the time.”
Ahh, sweet ignorance. Seriously though – getting my MPH in environmental health science really opened my eyes to a variety of topics I feel like more people should be educated about. It’s easy to be told and to believe that chemicals and pollutant exposure are just a part of life, and that everything is fine, but the truth is, many produce real and serious risks!
Please know that I am not an alarmist, nor do I want to ignite fear into you about any specific food or chemical. My goal is always to provide information about nutrition and environmental health science to equip people to make choices for a healthy life.
Random story…What Inspired this post
VOCs have been on my mind a lot lately, due to some 4-day-turned-4-week contract work that I was told was “low-VOC.”
Obviously, me being me, I had the urge to look up the chemical being used and to do my own risk assessment, and can say, that although it is not a known carcinogen to humans, I wouldn’t consider the work being done to carry zero risk.
I also have hypersomnia and am super sensitive to chemicals, so let’s just say…the last four weeks have been trying me. Of course, my concerns were washed over, and I was told repeatedly that “VOCs are fine!”
Sometimes it’s frustrating to have authority but not be respected. Sigh. I have legitimate training in this area, and literally was stared at like I was an alarmist idiot.
So it goes with choosing to study environmental health science and nutrition and looking young and having others make assumptions about my qualifications and level of competence. Just over here dealing with daily headaches and worried about people (and pets!) in this building! Sigh. In an attempt to turn my frustration into something positive, here is an informative post on VOCs to help you live your best life!
Anyways, let’s chat VOCs!
What are VOCs?
Volatile Organic Compounds (also known as VOCs) are compounds that are easily vaporized and turn to gases. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, emitted by a by a wide range of products, and inhaling VOCs can lead to both short and long-term health effects.
VOCs are most often found in higher concentrations indoors than outdoors. Many chemicals found in common building materials, home goods, and household cleaning products contain VOCs.
Sources of VOCs include paints, paint strippers and other solvents, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, air fresheners, pesticides, dry-cleaned clothing, moth repellents, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as printers, copiers, and graphic and craft materials like glues, adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions.
VOCs are also found in cigarettes, secondhand smoke, and vehicle exhaust.
The most common ways people are exposed to VOCs is through inhalation. Skin contact is another route of exposure.
What are the Health Effects of VOCs?
VOCs can cause a variety of short and longer-term health effects.
Early symptoms of VOC exposure include ear and respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, and visual disorders or impairments.
More generally, VOCs can cause ear, throat, nose and eye irritation and discomfort, difficulty breathing, as well as allergic skin reaction and rash. Epistaxis, or nosebleeds, may also occur from VOC exposure.
VOCs can also cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, and loss of coordination.
Longer-term VOC exposure can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some VOCs, including benzene (found in tobacco smoke, paint supplies, and automobile emissions) and methylene chloride (found in paint thinners and adhesive removers) are known carcinogens in human studies.
Others, like perchlorethylene (emitted during the dry-cleaning process) are known carcinogens in animals, and suspected carcinogens in humans.
As with all chemical exposures, health effects vary based on exposure level, time period of exposure, and individual susceptibility (some people are more susceptible than others).
VOC exposure in office spaces are sometimes responsible or contributory for a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome,” or SBS. SBS describes a medical condition where people in a building have symptoms of illness of feel nondescript “unwell” for no obvious reason.
Elderly individuals and those with asthma may be more susceptible to the impacts of VOCs. Young children, who have an increased frequency of respiration compared to adults, are also more vulnerable.…