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The ABCs of VOCs: How Do They Impact Your Health?

harmful effects of VOCs

Indoor air quality is of paramount importance. The average person spends the vast majority of their time indoors— as much of 90% of every day! Avoiding pollutants and contaminants in your air is key to maintaining a healthy breathing environment. One of the biggest factors that impact air quality is VOCs, or volatile organic compounds.

VOCs are gases emitted by certain solids or liquids, and they’re created by a number of very common products, including cleaning supplies. When these products are used indoors, they’re intensely concentrated— as much as ten times higher than outdoor use.

Are these frequently used items dangerous to the health of all who encounter them? Read on for more information about VOCs and how they affect indoor air quality.

Where Are VOCs Found?

As we said above, VOCs are commonly a part of items that are a part of everyday life, particularly in the workplace. One of the most common compounds is formaldehyde, which is a colorless gas that smells strongly. You might be surprised to learn that many building materials contain formaldehyde— particleboard, glue, and plywood are just a few examples. Large equipment commonly found in offices such as printers and copiers as well as simple correction fluids are also a source of VOCs in the workplace. Factor in the VOCs from cleaning agents that are routinely used by commercial cleaning companies, and you’re looking at a not-insignificant impact on the air in your building.

How Do VOCs Impact Your Health?

Unfortunately, the news isn’t good. Exposure to these compounds can lead to a variety of health issues, including:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Loss of coordination, headaches, and nausea
  • Liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage

There have even been studies that found that prolonged exposure to high concentrations of these organic compounds caused cancer in animals. Some particularly potent VOCs, such as formaldehyde or benzene, are believed to be carcinogenic for humans, too. The cancer risk assessment is up for debate, but it’s still a substance that should be avoided.

How do you know that you’re being affected by VOCs in your home or workplace? Check for these symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dyspnea
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Eye irritation
  • Nose and throat discomfort
  • Emesis
  • Epistaxis
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Of course, these factors will vary based on the level and length of exposure to the compounds.

Can You Avoid Exposure to VOCs?

In a word, yes. It’s not easy, but it’s possible to reduce the amount of time you spend around these dangerous compounds. Here are a few tips to avoid the negative impact of VOCs.

  • Seal surfaces that contain these dangerous compounds. If your building materials such as particle board or plywood are treated with formaldehyde, use an impermeable sealant to prevent exposure to the VOCs.
  • Purchase with care. Study labels carefully to see if the more dangerous substances are present on the list of active ingredients. If you must purchase a product that contains a volatile organic compound, be sure that it’s stored safely in a tightly sealed container.
  • Don’t store old containers of paints, cleaners, or solvents. Remove anything that could emit dangerous odors safely— in other words, don’t throw them away with your day-to-day garbage, but rather take them to a recycling center for disposal.
  • Hire a green cleaning company. You want your building to be well-maintained, but have you considered the impact that cleaning supplies can have on your air quality? Search for a company that’s committed to decreasing their use of chemicals, water, and energy resources.

It’s time to take your indoor air quality seriously. Contact us to learn what a serious commercial cleaning service can do to enhance your building’s environment.

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