Volatile Organic Compounds, Irritants in The Air We Breathe


Is it allergy season already?

I, like many Americans, suffer from seasonally related symptoms related to allergies. The symptoms range from asthma to hay fever to headaches. The typical culprits include pollen, mold, fungi, dust, and too many other substances to completely list.

Ironically, many symptoms attributed to allergies are not caused by items found naturally but from man-made products we use in our homes. Examples of products which contain materials which can result in allergy like symptoms include paint cleaners, air fresheners and household cleaners.

Volatile Organic Compounds

These products all can produce volatile organic compounds (VOC) which are carbon-based compounds which evaporate at room temperature.

When they enter the air, they react with other elements to produce ozone, which causes air pollution. Other symptoms include nausea, headaches and throat irritation. a host of health issues including breathing problems, headache, burning, watery eyes and nausea. Many of these compounds have been linked to cancer, as well as kidney and liver damage.

These compounds are a larger part of our environment than you might believe. Paint cleaners are the second largest source of VOC emissions into the atmosphere after automobiles, responsible for roughly 11 billion pounds every year.

Minimizing the VOC’s in the air you breathe

Here are some things you can do to try and minimize the volatile contaminants in the air you breathe.

  1. Attempt to use non- VOC products if possible. Seek out either for “Low-VOC” and “Zero-VOC” paints and finishes for indoor painting. Consider using solid wood, hardboard or ‘exterior grade’ plywood in place of pressed wood products.
  1. If you are using VOC’s containing products in your home, ensure you are in a ventilated area while using them. Increasing the amount of ventilation can lower the concentration of VOCs in your home.
  1. Allow new products such a new couch to off-gas before bringing them into the home. This can be accomplished by storing the couch in the garage or outside before bringing the couch indoors.
  1. No smoking. The by-products associate with smoking cigarette form benzene and formaldehyde two of the most potent VOC’s which are known to cause cancer.
  1. Control the room climate by keeping the temperature and humidity low which will reduce the about of VOC’s present in the air.

Closing Thought

The importance of maximizing the quality of the air you breathe you breathe cannot be underestimated. The next time you see a large plume of polluted air coming from an industrial complex and you think this may be your highest source of containment in the air you breathe perhaps you should check closer to home for the source of your allergy related symptoms.