Volatile Organic Compounds, also known as VOCs, are organic compounds that easily become vapor. Volatile Organic Compounds are emitted from natural sources. Often the source of pleasant natural odors like fresh roses and pine forests, VOCs aren’t always the evil toxins we’ve been warned about.
However, Volatile Organic Compounds also come from less natural sources, such as paint, cleaning supplies, pesticides, cosmetics, adhesives, and building supplies. Not all VOCs cause adverse health effects, although some can trigger uncomfortable or even life-threatening symptoms. Potential effects of short-term exposure include eye and throat irritation, headache, nausea, and dizziness. Impacts of long-term exposure to VOCs include damage to the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system, as well as some forms of cancer.
Currently, there is not much information available about the adverse health effects of volatile organic compounds in the home. The Environmental Protection Agency does advise, however, that indoor levels of VOCs are typically as much as 5 times higher than levels outside.
There are some simple steps you can take to reduce the levels of volatile organic compounds in your home.
Avoid Products that Release VOCs – Source control is the most effective way to reduce VOC exposure. While it is nearly impossible in this modern age to completely eliminate all sources of VOCs, you should always try to avoid the worst offenders. Also, finding safer alternatives to conventional paints, cleaners, cosmetics, and building materials will help reduce VOC levels in your home.
Increase Indoor Ventilation– Because commercial buildings generally have powerful and well-maintained HVAC systems, they often have better air quality than some private residences. This is because of the air circulation created by these efficient industrial air systems. To achieve a similar effect in your home, be sure to regularly change your air filters and have your home’s HVAC system regularly serviced.
Some other options to increase ventilation in your home is to open your windows for a period of time every day. A more convenient and effective option is to install trickle vents. Trickle vents allow fresh air to enter your home without creating a flowing draft or breeze. This helps flush bad air out and allows fresh air to constantly flow through your home to improve air quality.
Use an Air Purifier – This step should be explored after you’ve incorporated the first two. Air purifiers help circulate your home’s indoor air, trapping VOCs in the system’s filter medium before the air is returned to the room. Be sure to do some research about the different types of air purifiers available and what types of pollutants they remove. The Environmental Protection Agency has published a useful Guide to Air Cleaners. This is a good jumping off point for consumers wanting to improve the indoor air quality of their homes.
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