Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases emitted by certain products or processes. VOCs include a variety of chemicals that cause adverse health effects and negatively impact the environment.
Concentrations of VOCs are significantly higher indoors than outdoors. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the level of organic pollutants is two to five times higher inside homes than outside regardless of whether the home is located in an urban or rural area.
How do VOCs impact your health?
When VOCs are released, they react with nitrogen oxides in the air and form ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also aggravate asthma and other types of lung diseases.
Exposure to VOCs themselves can also cause both short-term and long-term health effects. These effects include:
- Irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat;
- Damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system;
- Headaches and dizziness;
- Loss of coordination
How do VOCs impact the environment?
When VOCs react with nitrogen oxides and create ozone molecules, they also create fine particulates. Ground-level ozone and fine particulates are both key pollutants in the creation of smog. Ground-level ozone can also harm plants by reducing their growth and leaving them vulnerable to pests and disease.
VOCs are also a contributor to acid rain. Acid rain can kill aquatic wildlife and wash away important nutrients from the soil. Acid rain also releases aluminum, which can harm animals and trees.
Where do VOCs come from?
VOCs are released by many different sources, many of which are household products. Some of the most common sources of VOCs include:
- Aerosol sprays;
- Wood preservatives;
- Paint and paint strippers;
- Disinfectants and cleansers;
- Air fresheners;
- Stored fuels and automotive products;
- Dry-cleaned clothing;
- Office equipment such as copiers and printers;
- Wood burning;
- Diesel emissions
How can I reduce the amount of VOCs emitted?
Fortunately, the level of VOCs has been steadily declining. There were 34.7 million tons of VOC emissions in 1970. As of 2017, there are 16.2 million tons.
There are several ways you can help to reduce the amount of VOCs that are emitted every year and help protect the environment:
- Protect pollutant-fighting plants: You can make your yard a more eco-friendly place by switching to a reel mower, using fewer chemical-based products, and planting and protecting plants that remove pollutants like VOCs from the air;
- Be mindful of what products you use: Many household products contain VOCs that can be damaging to your health and the environment. Consider using VOC-free paint and other household products;
- Reduce how much you drive: Vehicles are a major contributing factor in air pollution. To cut back on how many pollutants released into the air, consider carpooling or only using your vehicle when you really need it.