indoor air pollution

Are There Volatile Organic Compounds Lurking In Your Office?

Are There Volatile Organic Compounds Lurking In Your Office? 1

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. 

Indoor air pollution and air quality news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.

Chemical Exposure in Food Processing Plants

Food processing plants should ensure their workers are protected from hazardous fumes, such as ammonia.

While food safety may be on the forefront of some consumers’ minds when doing their shopping this year, food processing companies may also want to step up their commitment to safety in the workplace. As food facilities operate equipment and tools that may emit hazardous gases and fumes, workers may be at risk for long-term exposure to chemicals. 

A food manufacturing company was recently fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for $42,000 for six safety violations that may have led to workers being adversely exposed to ammonia. OSHA said the company failed to maintain the facility’s ventilation system, which is one of the most important aspects in ensuring worker safety, especially when it comes to hazardous fumes and gases like ammonia. The ammonia, a hazard that is supposed to be accounted for during proper process safety management, was used for refrigeration at the plant and managed to become released after a forklift damaged an ammonia storage container.

“A proper safety management program is meant to anticipate and plan for an array of failures that could cause the release of hazardous chemicals,” said Casey Perkins, OSHA’s area director in Austin. “Given the multiple deficiencies in this program, it’s fortunate no serious injuries resulted.”

Effects of ammonia on worker health

As a colorless but strong-smelling gas, ammonia can lead to a number of negative health effects, including causing workers to have difficulty breathing and experience chest pain, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition to the symptoms of ammonia exposure, NIOSH said this gas can also become flammable at certain concentrations, usually when there is a 16 to 25 percent mixture of ammonia released into the air.

Companies that want to be proactive in protecting their workers from hazardous chemical exposure often invest in air filtration solutions that allow employers to extract poisonous fumes while still maintaining a productive work environment. Oil mist collectors could also be an important safeguard against the chemical risks of ammonia as contact with lubricating oils could cause the gas to become even more flammable.

“When mixed with lubricating oils, its flammable concentration range is increased,” according to OSHA.” It can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire.”

With chemicals in the workplace potentially mixing and resulting in negative health consequences, companies must invest in the right engineering controls to guard their workers against long-term side effects.

Indoor air pollution and air quality news brought to you by Air Impurities Removal Systems, Inc.