VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds, Indoor Air Quality and Respiratory Health

VOCs lurk in many conventional cleaning products.
VOCs: different definitions in different places
Interestingly, though they're all the same substances, the definition of "volatile organic compound" varies by locale. The U.S. EPA defines VOCs as "any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions," but also includes a list of dozens of exceptions for compounds "determined to have negligible photochemical reactivity."

Volatile organic compounds and air quality standards
Under European law, the definition of a VOC is based on evaporation into the atmosphere, rather than reactivity, and the British coatings industry has adopted a labeling scheme for all decorative coatings to inform customers about the levels of organic solvents and other volatile materials present. Split into five levels, or "bands", these span minimal, low, medium, high, and very high.

In the U.S., various rules apply to labeling products, too. A "no-VOC" paint, for example, must have fewer than five grams of VOCs per liter; latex paints containing less than 250 grams per liter and alkyd paints with less than 380 may be labeled as "low-VOC." However, adding pigment typically adds VOCs, and since testing is typically completed before color is added, VOC levels can vary widely from these parameters.

Now that you know what they are, learn how to avoid VOCs.

Tags: Chemicals | Green Basics | Volatile Organic Compounds


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