A Look at Indoor Air Quality and Volatile Organic Compounds
Making the choice to filter the air where you live or work could be the single greatest thing you do to improve your overall health.
When it comes to indoor environments, a major source of the contaminants and pollution that affect indoor air quality are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. They are often mentioned in reports or warnings about the quality of indoor air, but rarely explained.
What Are Volatile Organic Compounds?
Organic compounds are carbon based chemicals that are found in all living things. Volatile organic compounds are organic compounds that easily convert to gases or vapors. They contain many elements and include oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, fluorine, bromine, chlorine and sulfur.
VOCs can be released from burning fuels like gasoline, wood, coal and even natural gas. They are also produced by many common products found in the home or workplace, such as solvents, paints, glues and some cleaning products. They are common ingredients in thinners for paint and lacquer, moth repellants, hobby supplies, air fresheners, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, automotive products and dry cleaning fluids.
Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds
Believe it or not, VOCs are common pollutants that can be found in most of the air in the United States, both indoors and outdoors. Exposure occurs by simply breathing any air that contains them.
Outdoors, exposure to VOCs is usually higher during summer months when the sun and high temperatures cause reactions with pollution in the air to form smog.
Indoors, VOCs are released into the air whenever products are used that contain them. These contaminants are also released, at a lower level, from products in storage.
In the home, they can be released when cleaning, painting or using hobby and craft supplies like glues, permanent markers and photographic solutions. Home dry cleaning products can also produce VOCs.
In the workplace, levels of VOCs in the air can vary significantly depending on the industry in which you work. In a common office, equipment and supplies like copiers, printers and correction fluids are standard sources of VOC contamination. If you happen to work at a dry cleaner or photography studio, levels will be higher. If you regularly work with petroleum based products or in a chemical manufacturing environment, contamination levels can be very high.
Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds
Since there are many types of chemicals that fall under the umbrella of VOCs, health effects can vary widely. Some have no known negative effects on human health, while others are considered to be highly toxic and dangerous. Concentration levels of contamination and the length of time someone has been exposed are also significant factors in determining health risks.
In the National Toxicology Program’s 13th Report on Carcinogens, benzene and formaldehyde are listed as known human carcinogens (substances that cause cancer). Perchloroethylene, which is the main solvent used in dry cleaning, along with styrene are considered “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.” People considered to be at the highest risk for these particular VOCs are industrial workers who may be exposed to them in the workplace, cigarette smokers and people who undergo prolonged exposure to motor vehicle exhaust.
Short term exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause relatively minor reactions such as eye and respiratory irritation, allergic reactions, nausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigue and memory impairment. Long term exposure has been linked to serious health issues including damage to the kidneys, liver and the nervous system.
Air Filtration Can Eliminate the Risks
Proper use of air filtration equipment has been shown to significantly reduce or even eliminate the risks of VOC contamination in home, office and industrial environments. Making the choice to filter the air where you live or work could be the single greatest thing you do to improve your overall health.
Camfil produces a full line of air filtration products, from self-contained air purifiers to clean a single room all the way up to highly advanced filters and complete systems designed to remove dangerous microscopic contaminants from the most polluted industrial environments.
Backed by over 50 years of experience and innovation, every Camfil product is designed to provide high efficiency air filtration, low energy consumption, and a healthier environment. No matter what your needs, Camfil has a solution that is right for you.
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