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VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful chemicals emitted by various products and materials we have in our homes. Most VOCs cannot be detected by smell, and can trigger (or even exacerbate) asthma attacks. 

VOCs are chemicals that are easily evaporated at room temperature into a gas (from a solid or liquid source) that is emitted into the air.  Concentrations of these chemicals can be up to 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Thousands of products – many that we use or are exposed to every day – emit VOCs into the air while they are being used and when they are stored (to some degree). 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

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.

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. They 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.