Tuesday, June 3, 2014

VOCs (What is that?)

Do you smell that? What is that smell? I recently went house shopping and, after being in a new home for only a couple of minutes, began to feel ill. Is something wrong with me or was it the house? Well, nothing was physically wrong with me or the house as it was very beautiful but those fumes were not so friendly.

Those fumes are actually gases that are called Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs. The newer the building, the more potent they are and the potential is there for VOCs to be more inside of a building than outside. The average for a new building is 20-40 mg per m 3 and it is about 10 times greater indoors than outdoors. The older the building and the materials, VOCs decrease over time.

Where can VOCs be found?
VOCs are very prevalent in our environment, however, I will limit the sources to building materials since our topic is dealing with toxins in buildings. VOCs can be found in some products such as: paints, paint strippers and other solvents, varnishes, vinyl floors, carpets, sealing caulks, pressed wood furniture.

How can VOCs adversely affect your health?
Not all VOCs pose a health risk but for the ones that are highly toxic, there are several factors that must be considered along with the variability of symptoms. Some factors are:
·         The length of time you're exposed to them
·         The rate at which the VOC is off-gassed
·         The building's ventilation capacity
·         Whether you're exposed to a combination of chemicals (these effects are largely unknown)

Acute symptoms of VOC exposure include:
  • Eye irritation/watering
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Asthma exacerbation
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Memory impairment
  • Visual disorders

However, over time, VOCs can lead to many serious conditions including:
  • Cancer
  • Damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Loss of coordination

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