Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are contained within many of the products and items we are surrounded by day to day, and are carbon-based chemicals which evaporate at room temperature. The list of products which contain VOCs is extensive, but among some of the most common household items to contain these potentially harmful chemicals are carpet adhesives, paints, upholstery fabrics, air fresheners, disinfectants and cosmetics.
With so many household products containing VOCs, the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risk estimates that there are up to 900 chemicals in the indoor air we breathe. Staggeringly, that means that the air in our homes may in fact be up to 70% more polluted than the air outside, with airborne irritants significantly impacting our overall health and physical wellbeing.
Whether you can smell them or not, VOCs play a major role in determining the quality of the air we breathe in our homes and places of work. It is now widely recognised that VOCs contribute to a number of health problems, the severity of which depends on the concentration of VOCs in the air and the length of time someone is exposed to them. People suffering from asthma are particularly susceptible to the effects of VOCs, with the inhaled chemicals exacerbating shortness of breath and other symptoms. Short-term, common complaints include headaches, dizziness, nausea and eye, nose and throat irritation, but if a person is exposed to high levels of VOCs over a prolonged period of time, there are more serious health implications. Studies have found that those exposed to high levels of VOCs are at increased risk of developing cancer, liver and kidney damage or damage to their central nervous system.
Because they are to be found in some of the most commonplace everyday items, it’s difficult to avoid VOCs altogether. Exhaust fumes from cars, moth balls, gas fires, cleaning products, varnishes and solvents all add to the mix of VOCs we encounter on a daily basis, as do aerosol sprays, the ink from newspapers and a range of wood products.
While you may not be able to dodge them altogether, there are certain steps you can take to reduce the levels of VOCs in your home and protect yourself and your family from the health risks. With increased awareness of the issue, more and more people are looking to low VOC alternatives when it comes to replacing paints and flooring. These low VOC options are less likely to retain moisture which can lead to the growth of mould, one of the greatest hazards in reduced air quality.
Another practical and effective long-term step you can take involves installing a whole house ventilation system which we can provide here at Envirovent, these systems work by filtering the air within your home, reducing the humidity levels which can cause mould growth and encourage bacteria. With the air purified, VOC levels are significantly reduced and the air in your home is cleaner and safer to breathe, meaning healthier, happier homes in the long run.