VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds, Indoor Air Quality and Respiratory Health
There's more than meets the eye when it comes to furniture and wallcoverings. Photo credit: Getty Images
Where do volatile organic compounds cause problems?
Indoor environments are where volatile organic compounds are most dangerous to us; they contribute to poor indoor air quality, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates is often two to five times worse than the air outside, but concentrations of VOCs can be up to 1,000 times greater indoors than out! Common VOCs include formaldehyde, used in many glues and adhesives, including those found in wood veneers, plywood and particle board, and polyurethane, which is used in many foams, paints, varnishes, and construction sealants.
VOCs and respiratory health
As we noted in our Green Basics column about indoor air pollution, if there are volatile organic compounds in a product, there are VOCs that can off-gas into the air, creating a danger to human health when they do. At high concentrations, some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects; others are known carcinogens. But even low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs can produce acute reactions. Bottom line: Avoid volatile organic compounds as much as possible.
Oddly, VOC regulation varies from country to country; learn more about VOC definiton and regulation near you.