While smoke and fumes are easily pinpointed as a cause of poor indoor air quality, there is a hidden danger that building occupants and workers might not be aware of and it could be inadvertently affecting their health. Known as volatile organic compounds, this potentially harmful substance is found in chemicals located around offices and other building areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. VOCs could be lurking in a building’s carpet or furnishings.
In addition to office spaces, items that can give off VOCs include paints, paint thinner and aerosol sprays. Offices are not the only structures that contain VOCs as other buildings such as laboratories, print shops, art rooms and more contain have VOCs and related odors. Even products that seem to be safe, such as air fresheners and dry-cleaned clothing contain VOCs.
These chemical contaminants are known to evaporate into the air, affecting the air quality and subsequently the health of those breathing in this environment. Since VOCs are released into the air, the air quality inside of a building could be exacerbated due to the concentration of chemicals in a confined space.
“Tests have shown that indoor concentrations of VOCs can be two to five times higher than outdoor concentrations,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said. “Immediately after the application of a high-VOC-emitting product, indoor levels can be more than 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels.”
According to the NRDC, high concentrations of VOCs are associated with various health issues, including headaches and itchy, watery or burning eyes. Severe symptoms of VOC chemical exposure also involve liver and nervous system damage and other health impacts might even include the development of cancer. VOCs also have the potential to harm the environment.
“In addition to the known health effects, VOCs are a principal ingredient of ground-level ozone, which in turn is a key component of urban smog,” NRDC said.
The NRDC adds that if companies purchase fewer items that have VOC emissions, they could help counteract the negative effects of these chemicals.
Steps to prevent the dangers of VOCs
There are a variety of ways employers can take a proactive approach toward limiting the amount of VOC exposure to workers.
Record complaints. As employers take chemical exposure from VOCs seriously, they should record and address any complaints about the indoor air quality of their building.
Choose products that emit low to no levels of VOCs. If possible, employers should choose items that have a limited amount of VOCs, including replacement carpets and substituting cleaners.
Correctly store cleaning products. Ensure cleaning chemicals are not placed near heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and be sure their containers are sealed.
Buy air filters. As a way to combat the presence of VOCs in an enclosed environment, employers can invest in gas and odor air filtration systems that have the ability to capture VOCs. Air cleaners are effective at removing other odors and chemicals.
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