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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds are gases emitted from certain liquids and solids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Volatile Organic Compounds are emitted by a wide variety of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints, varnishes, solvents, cleaning products, cosmetics, air fresheners, carpet and vinyl floors, glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and pesticides.
Studies in homes have found that levels of several VOCs are two to five times higher than outdoors. During and for several hours after certain activities, such as paint stripping, levels may be 1,000 times greater than outdoor concentrations.
Health Effects of VOCs
Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Specific side effects of chemicals found in VOCs include pregnant women exposed to toluene are at risk for having babies with neurological problems and developmental problems. Styrene is a suspected endocrine disruptor. Xylenes have been linked to birth defects. EPA data show that methylene chloride causes cancer in animals. It also converts to carbon monoxide (CO) in the body and can cause symptoms associated with CO exposure. Benzene is a known human carcinogen and is also found in tobacco smoke.
Steps to Reduce Exposure to VOCs