VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. These chemical compounds exist everywhere and are relatively harmless when occurring naturally. However, man-made VOCs can be much more damaging to human health due to the sheer volume and constant exposure during manufacturing processes. Man-made sources of VOCs are often present in building products, home and personal care products, and can be released during some types of frequently performed activities like driving or smoking. The distinguishing thing about VOCs is that they have a high vapor pressure at room temperature causing them to evaporate and release those chemicals into the air.
Common VOC examples include:
- Toluene which is often used as a solvent in paint, paint thinner, permanent markers, types of cement, and even disinfectants. It is classified as an aromatic hydrocarbon and if inhaled for an extended period it can result in light-headedness, nausea, unconsciousness, or even death.
- Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring VOC but is produced on a massive scale as a precursor to other chemical compounds and materials. Large amounts of it can be found in resins and coatings for things like particle board. This type of VOC is a known carcinogen and in short exposures is known to cause irritation in the eyes, throat, and lungs.
- Butanal, also known as butyraldehyde, is found in cigarettes, synthetic resins, solvents, plasticizers, and a number of other things. It is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA as a flavoring agent for things such as ice cream, baked goods, and various beverages. However, that does not mean it is safe to inhale the chemical compound. It is a part of the aldehyde family of carbonyl compounds which are generally toxic when inhaled.
- Dichlorobenzenes are most often found as components of herbicides, insecticides, medicine, and dyes. This VOC is an eye, nose, and throat irritant that may also cause dizziness, headaches, and an upset stomach if inhaled. Although larger amounts, either ingested or inhaled, can cause liver damage.
- Benzene is classified as a hydrocarbon and is a known carcinogen. It is one of the most used chemicals in production processes as it is involved in creating plastics, resins, nylon, other synthetic fibers, and more. Long term exposure to this chemical can cause a decrease in red blood cells, bone marrow problems, and excessive bleeding.
The examples above are only a few of the multitudes of VOCs present in our environment. If working in a place where volatile organic compounds are present, make sure to use the correct PPE or APR (air purifying respirator) because VOCs can lead to lifelong health issues if exposed for long periods of time.