What Are VOCs & Are They Harmful?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature, altering air quality and posing multiple health risks. Many household items such as paints, polishes, and cleaners emit VOCs, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.

Common Sources of VOCs

Common household products containing VOCs include:

  • cleansers and disinfectants
  • moth repellents and air fresheners
  • aerosol sprays
  • paints, paint strippers and other solvents
  • wood preservatives
  • stored fuels and automotive products
  • hobby supplies
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticides

As with most pollutants, the extent of the health effect will depend on many factors including exposure level and exposure duration.

Are VOCs harmful?

Different VOCs have different effects on our health, and exposure duration is commonly a critical factor in determining how harmful they can be. Although many VOCs can be found naturally in the environment, there are different VOCs with different levels of toxicity ranging from no known effects at all to highly toxic – even carcinogenic. Inhaling VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and may also cause difficulty breathing.

Indoor concentrations of VOCs can be up to ten times higher than outdoors. Therefore, even breathing low levels of VOCs for a prolonged period has shown to cause issues in some individuals – most notably those with asthma.

As today (May 5th) is World Asthma Day, we feel it is our duty here at Agar to bring attention to such an alarming condition afflicting so many Australians every day.

VOCs & Asthma

Asthma is a condition whereby the individual may have difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, coughs, and wheezing. When people with asthma are exposed to VOCs, their symptoms can be exacerbated and cause them to flare up.

If you (like me) don’t suffer from asthma, it can be hard to imagine the daily inconvenience and struggles for an automated process we take for granted. To help paint a picture, here is how many sufferers describe the daily symptoms of asthma:

  • Having constantly itchy lungs
  • Trying to breathe through a straw stuffed with cotton
  • Either a dull ache or a sharp stabbing in the chest
  • Like someone sitting on your chest and not getting up

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2017-2018 there were approximately 2,700,000 Australians who had asthma. This is approximately 1 in 9 Australians. There were also 389 asthma-related deaths in 2018 – that is more than one person’s life lost every day of the year.

How to minimise risk?

With VOCs so prevalent in so many different products, it is an extremely difficult task to limit exposure to these harmful toxins. And considering we spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 48 weeks a year at work, it’s a conversation that is too important to neglect. But don’t panic! There are a few different ways you can minimise your risk.

Risks of indoor air pollution can be lowered by adequate ventilation as well as through the use of environmentally-preferable building materials, common house/office items, and cleaning products.

Your best option to see immediate results is to replace the products in your office’s arsenal to those with low-VOCs. Many of our products are specially formulated from raw materials that were chosen for their low-VOC emitting properties which drastically improves indoor air quality when cleaning. This makes the entire cleaning process safer for the inhabitants of the building, and the cleaners themselves.

Whether you’re a cleaning agency looking to add extra value to your service, or a worker looking to improve the general health and well-being of the office, raise the attention to your supervisor and get the conversation started. Trust me, your lungs will thank you.

Sources & References:

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