Are VOC’s A Hazard To Your Health?

african american woman with knees up( — Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), are various unhealthy chemicals and substances that are emitted from certain solid and liquid products over a period of hours, days, months, and even years. There are literally thousands of products that emit VOCs into the air. These substances can produce a wide array of adverse health effects and are well known as one of the main causes of indoor air pollution in both the home and office.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes the dangers of VOCs, manufacturers of most consumer goods are not required to list the ingredients in their products (allegedly to protect against trade secrets), so consumers are not always clearly warned regarding the dangers of many products available on the market.

What Products Emit VOCs?

An enormous number of consumer products emit VOCs into the air. Do you know that “new shower curtain smell” that fills your bathroom when you unwrap a new shower curtain from the store? Those are VOCs. Or the smell of a freshly painted bedroom? VOCs again. And even though some VOCs emit an odor that is recognizable and distinct, the presence of many VOCs—like formaldehyde—is hidden.

While it is not possible to list all of the products containing VOCs in the context of this brief article, the following list provides a general beginner’s guide for the concerned consumer:

• Paints, primers, many household cleaners, paint strippers, lacquers, varnishes, waxes, disinfectants, fuels, wood preservatives

• Many building supplies and household furniture, especially furniture made from pressboard and

• New automobiles

• Office equipment like photocopiers, printers, correction fluid, carbonless copy paper, glues, adhesives, various permanent markers, art, craft and hobby supplies

• Household products like shower curtains, shower curtain liners, lunch boxes, air fresheners, dry cleaned clothing, moth repellents, aerosol sprays, perfumes, colognes, detergents, school supplies, hoses, dryer sheets

What About Phthalates?

Phthalates are VOCs that have been found to have very deleterious effects on children’s health, especially their endocrine systems. In 2008, Congress passed a law banning the use of 6 particular phthalates in the manufacturing of children’s toys, however other non-banned phthalates may still be in use in that production process.
Unfortunately, phthalates have not been banned from the manufacturing of other products like shower curtains, raincoats, vinyl flooring, hoses, detergents, nail polish, shampoo, school supplies, food packaging and a vast array of consumer goods, thus children and adults are still exposed to unhealthy levels of phthalates on a daily basis at home, work, public buildings, daycare and school.

What Are the Health Effects of VOCs?

The effects of VOCs on the human body are far reaching, and are similar for both children and adults, although the endocrine and hormone disruption caused in children may be more deleterious in terms of both physical and mental growth and development.

• Eye, nose and throat irritation, nosebleeds
• Headaches, loss of coordination, central nervous system damage, fatigue, dizziness
• Nausea, vomiting
• Certain cancers
• Skin irritation, rash, itchiness, eczema
• Endocrine and hormone disruption, kidney malfunction
• There is a potential—although unproven—link to learning and behavior disabilities, most of which did not exist prior to World War II and the development of these compounds

What Can I Do?

To a large extent, avoidance of VOCs is the first thing one can do to protect oneself and one’s family from exposure. While we cannot necessarily control what furniture, paints, solvents, carpets and adhesives are used at the office or school, we can control what is used in our homes.

It is true that some safer materials are more expensive than their chemically-laden counterparts. However, when we consider the potential short- and long-term health effects of these compounds (and the accumulated cost of healthcare expenses related to exposure), the relative cost of alternative products may seem worth the investment, especially where children’s health and development is concerned.

Some suggestions:

• When painting indoors, choose to spend a few extra dollars on “Low VOC” or “Zero VOC” paints and primers. The range of colors and choices can sometimes be slightly limited, but the lack of a strong smell of paint in the home while using these products clearly indicates the absence of VOCs. If you can’t afford the extra cost, ventilate well and do not allow a child or adult to sleep in a newly painted bedroom until the odor has completely disappeared.

• Consider not installing new carpeting in your home, most of which emits VOCs into the air for weeks or months.

• If purchasing furniture, try to purchase furniture made of real wood rather than fake wood that is filled with adhesives and formaldehyde. The same goes for wall coverings and “fake” wood flooring.

• Choose clothing that does not require dry cleaning, or only use a “green” dry cleaner if one exists in your city or town.

• Always utilize adequate ventilation when using any known substance that contains VOCs

• Purchase natural, fragrance-free laundry detergents and household cleaners, most widely available at health food stores. Commercial fragrance-free laundry detergents often use additional chemicals to cover up the fragrance

• Purchase alternatives to plastic or vinyl shower curtains (there are many available online). If you can’t afford to do so, allow new shower curtains and other similar products to “off-gas” outdoors until the odor has dissipated.

Educate Yourself

If you would like more education about VOCs, phthalates, formaldehyde, and similar substances and products, the following websites may be helpful:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Website:
The Environmental Working Group (EWG):
Our Stolen Future:
The Daily Green:

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