• A Guide to Volatile Organic Compounds

A Guide to Volatile Organic Compounds

Mar 19 2019 Read 725 Times

Found everywhere from industrial factories to urban homes, volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, have emerged as a major health concern for populations across the globe. The issue is fuelled not only by air pollution, but also by exposure to synthetic materials that release a constant stream of organic chemicals into the atmosphere. 

Defining VOCs

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a volatile organic compound is defined as "any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions."

The organic chemicals are characterised by a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature and are released as gases from solid materials and liquid substances. VOC emissions can be obvious, like inhaling petrol fumes or breathing in cigarette smoke, or indirect, like using a chemical air freshener or sleeping on a memory foam mattress. 

Inside vs outside exposure

While exposure to VOCs is often caused by pollution, vehicle exhaust and fuel emissions, the EPA warns that levels of the organic chemicals can often be up to 1000 times higher indoors. The widespread adoption of synthetic materials means that the average home can contain as many as 100 types of VOCs, some easily detectable and others flying under the radar.

The dangers of volatile organic compounds

The body of research regarding exposure to VOCs is continually growing and while not all studies are accurate, many offer a glimpse of the dangers of exposure to volatile organic compounds. As well as inhalation, VOCs can also infiltrate the body via skin contact.

Short term exposure

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Itchy eyes
  • Respiratory tract irritation
  • Memory problems

Long-term exposure

  • Nausea
  • Damage to internal organs like the kidneys and liver
  • Issues with the central nervous system
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cancer

Minimising exposure to VOCs

Eliminating exposure to VOCs completely can be difficult, though with a few lifestyle changes it's possible to significantly reduce contact with the organic chemicals. Opting for natural products over their synthetic counterparts is generally a guaranteed way to minimise exposure to VOCs. This means opting for natural cleaning products, investing in an organic mattress, purifying the air and even using alkaline like baking soda to bind with VOC acids and keep them away from the lungs and skin.

For a closer look at the latest techniques being used to study VOCs don't miss 'Analysis of Volatile Compounds by GC-Headspace', which offers eLearners an introduction to  GC-Headspace and the chance to find out more about Honeywell Research Chemicals, a major global producer of solvents and reagents.

Reader comments

Do you like or dislike what you have read? Why not post a comment to tell others / the manufacturer and our Editor what you think. To leave comments please complete the form below. Providing the content is approved, your comment will be on screen in less than 24 hours. Leaving comments on product information and articles can assist with future editorial and article content. Post questions, thoughts or simply whether you like the content.

Post a Comment

Digital Edition

International Labmate July 2019

July 2019

In This Edition Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy - 67th ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics - Modular MS Bench System with Integrated Gas Supply for Sciex LC-MS/MS Unveile...

View all digital editions


AACC Annual Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo

Aug 04 2019 Anaheim, CA, USA

M&M 2019

Aug 04 2019 Portland, OR, USA

DXC 2019

Aug 05 2019 Lombard, IL, USA

ACS National Meeting & Expo, Fall 2019

Aug 25 2019 San Diego, CA, USA

Microscopy Conference 2019

Sep 01 2019 Berlin, Germany

View all events