What are VOCs and How Can They Affect My Health?

Feb 10, 2023 | Healthy Homes

We all know about the danger of breathing in car fumes, using strong adhesives and paints in enclosed spaces, and the risks of smoking. All of these things are known as VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. While we may know that breathing these things in directly can be acutely harmful, we often don’t understand what prolonged exposure can do. Read on to find out how VOCs can affect your health and how to reduce your risk of being affected.

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are compounds with low solubility and high vapor pressure. Many VOCs are human-made chemicals that are used in the production of refrigerants, paints, and pharmaceuticals.

VOCs are found in the air, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, continuously reproducing as they’re stored or transported. Some of the most commonly known VOCs include formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene.

Here are some common sources of VOCs:

  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Diesel and gasoline emissions
  • Building materials such as adhesives, carpet, caulk, flooring, sealants, paint, and paint strippers
  • Pressed wood products, varnishes, and finishes
  • Air fresheners, cosmetics, cleaners, deodorants, disinfectants, and pesticides
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Wood burning stoves
  • Office copiers and printers

How do VOCs affect my health?

Inhaling VOCs irritates the eyes, nose, and throat, which can be dangerous to those with respiratory issues like asthma or COPD. It can cause nausea, headaches, difficulty breathing, and eventual damage to the organs and central nervous system. In cases of prolonged exposure, VOCs can contribute to the development of cancer.

(You can read more about the risks involved in each specific VOC in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Toxic Substances Portal.)

How can I protect myself against VOCs?

Protecting yourself against VOCs is all about being aware of them in the first place, and then taking measures to reduce your exposure to them. It’s not possible to avoid exposure to them completely, but with the right knowledge, you can minimize how often you breathe them in. Here are some ways to reduce your exposure to VOCs:

  • If you use paint or building supplies, look out for products with “Low VOC” on the label. If hiring contractors, ask them to seek out low or no-VOC products to use on your home.
  • If using a product with VOCs is unavoidable, use them in well-ventilated areas. Open windows and doors, and turn on extractor fans and air conditioners.
  • If you’re installing new carpets or other building products, let them air outside to release VOCs before installation.
  • Do not store products with VOCs indoors or in any rooms that are connected to the building you’re working in.

Giving up smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and getting out of built-up areas regularly are also good ways to reduce your exposure.

Mandalay Homes Against VOCs

At Mandalay Homes, we know the importance of your physical health. We also know about the significant presence of VOCs, even indoors, especially in new construction homes. That’s why we’re committed to using only low/no-VOC materials and products in our homes. We’ve been the proud annual recipient of the EPA INDOOR AIRPLUS™ LEADER AWARD since 2015.

Every Mandalay home features a fresh air exchange and filtration system called an Energy Exchange Ventilator or ERV. This ventilator runs constantly, so the stale air is circulated from inside your home and replaced with fresh, filtered air from the outside.

To learn more about Mandalay’s healthy homes, click here.

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