[sc:date]Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon-based compounds (hence the name) which possess a high vapor pressure at ‘normal’ temperature and humidity levels. If this definition is a bit too technical, let me explain it another way: many consumer and industrial-grade chemicals contain individual compounds, known as VOCs, which evaporate quickly when exposed to air. These VOCs vary in terms of their effect on the environment and health, which is why it’s important for companies to gain a better understanding of them. For a closer look at VOCs, keep reading.
The Three Levels of VOCs
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies VOCs into three different categories based on their volatility. They are very volatile (VVOC), volatile (VOC), and semi-volatile (SVOC). An example of a very volatile chemical is liquid propane, as it’s highly combustible and evaporates quickly when exposed to air. An example of a semi-volatile chemical is phenol (found in a variety of medicines and throat lozenges).
Dangers of VOCs
Because there are so many different types of VOCs, it’s difficult for companies to keep track of them all. And while exposure to certain VOCs may have little-to-no effect on employees’ health, others may cause a wide range of adverse health effects.
The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) state the following in regards to worker VOC exposure on their official website, “However, with few exceptions, chemical concentrations observed in the office work environment generally fall well below the occupational standards or recommended exposure limits used for industrial settings. Additionally, the presence of odors in a building does not always mean that there is an overexposure to chemicals by these existing occupational exposure standards. Some chemicals have very low odor thresholds, which means you can smell them at very low levels.”
Common Sources of VOCs
- Exhaust fumes from gas-powered machines
- Issues with plumbing
- Open flames and burn pits
- Emissions from synthetic carpets, rugs and other fabrics
- Use of solvents, chlorine, or other cleaning chemicals
- Presence of fungi
So, what steps can companies take to protect workers against the threat of VOCs. The key thing to remember is that VOCs are all around us, and as the CDC article states, most workplace settings fall well below the standard concentrations. If you notice workers are reporting frequently reporting the same health problems, then perhaps you should hire a third-party to come in and test the air for VOCs.