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sources of VOCs in the home

VOCs

VOCs are harmful chemicals emitted by many of the products and materials we have in our homes. Most VOCs can't be detected by smell. Many VOCs exacerbate or trigger asthma attacks.

Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that are emitted as gases from solids or liquids and easily evaporated into the air at room temperature. Concentrations of these chemicals can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Thousands of products, many that we use every day, or are exposed to every day, emit VOCs into the air while they are being used, and, to some degree, even when they are stored. These products include:

  • Paints & varnishes
  • Moth balls
  • Solvents
  • Building materials
  • Pesticides
  • Gasoline
  • Fuel oil
  • Cooking oils, etc.
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Carpeting
  • Wallpaper
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Dry-cleaning
  • Candles
  • Growing mold
  • Copiers & printers
  • Upholstery & fabrics
  • Glues & adhesives
  • Permanent markers
  • Craft materials
  • Cosmetics
  • Hair care products
  • Air fresheners
  • Disinfectants
  • Furniture (pressed wood)
  • Vehicle exhaust
  • Tobacco smoke

While all VOCs have the potential to be harmful, there are a few common VOCs that can be particularly dangerous, and are emitted from a number of products in our homes. These common VOCs are Formaldehyde, benzene, and phenol, and are classified as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For a complete list of all 188 HAPs, click here to visit the EPA website.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the European Union (EU) suggest that levels greater than 500 ng/L (nanograms per liter) of VOCs could pose a health hazard in homes. However, data from thousands of homes tested show the median value is 1,200 ng/L, more than twice the recommended level. Even slightly elevated levels of these airborne chemicals could produce health concerns for people, particularly young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those who suffer from allergies and asthma.