VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds

What are VOCs?

VOCs are Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are an off-gassing of chemicals from a vast variety of building materials. These chemicals evaporated at room temperature and can easily go undetected yet have detrimental effects on some people.

Indoor  VOCs can be as much as ten times the concentrations above outdoor samples. They can come from paints, pesticides, cosmetics and cleaning supplies but can also come from less-likely suspects such as insulation, carpet, linoleum and even home or office furnishings. VOCs are also emitted from basic office equipment like printers, adhesives and permanent markers

Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (mVOCs)

Molds and mildew  produce volatile compounds called microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs), a result of mold consuming its food and the digesting enzymes and mold growth producing carbon dioxide and other chemicals (ie. hydrocarbons, lcohols, aldehydes and akeytones). These compounds produce the unpleasant musty smell we recognize as mold.

Health Effect of VOCs

VOCs each have different levels of toxicity and can cause different reactions in different individuals. Risk  can depend on both the concentration and duration of exposure. Effects of exposure  can last from hours or days to chronic conditions that linger for years.

meter that tests for VOCs (volatile organic compounds)Common symptoms of exposure to VOCs include:

Short-Term (Acute) Symptoms
•    Fuzzy brain and/or dizziness
•    Vomitting
•    Coughing
•    Sore, red and/or itchy eyes
•    Headaches
•    Nausea
•    Asthma attacks
•    nose and/or throat irritations

Long-Term (Chronic) Symptoms
•    Liver or kidney damage
•    Nerve  damage
•    Cancer

How Are VOC’s Sampled?

The best way to sample the widest range of compounds with the greatest of ease is TO-15, a sophisticated canister technology capable of seeing parts per trillion of certain volatile organic compounds. The GC/MS instrument also makes it possible to look at ‘unknown compounds’ and make tentative identifications. It is this versatility that makes TO-15 one of the most powerful tools used for investigation and for any initial evaluation.

The TO-15 analysis as written by the EPA refers to a specific 63 compound list of regulated compounds. The list was developed to support the Clean Air Act. Safety Environmental Testing will also perform a non-target compound library search. This will provide a listing of up to 10-20 extra compounds that are not targets. These compounds are referred to tentatively identified compounds (TICs).

Removing VOCs from the Air

Using an activated carbon (a carbon or charcoal that is very porous and has a large surface area) filter is the most reliable way to remove VOCs from the air. VOCs attach to and accumulate on the activated carbon in the process known as adsorption.  These filters become exhausted or “spent” and must be frequently replaced. Otherwise, the adsorbed VOCs may desorb, or leave the surface of the activated carbon and return to the air.