The 411 on VOCs

From on November 28, 2007 in General Remodel

If you use common household products, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, should mean something to you. VOCs are gases emitted by thousands of products, including paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, wood preservatives, and glues and adhesives. VOCs consist of a variety of chemicals, and some of them have short- or long-term health effects. Caution: VOCsSome of these health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to the liver and central nervous system, skin allergies, fatigue, and dizziness. VOCs are known to cause cancer in animals and possibly cause cancer in humans. Studies show that concentrations of many VOCs are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. In addition, they can be released at very high levels not only while household products containing them are being used, but also while they are being stored. Common VOCs

  • Formaldehyde. This is one of the best known VOCs and can be readily identified. If you can, purchase products that are formaldehyde free.
  • Methylene chloride. This VOC is used in paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints. Keep use of methylene chloride to a minimum, and use it outdoors whenever possible.
  • Benzene. This VOC is a human carcinogen, used in paint supplies and special fuels.

Preventative Measures

You can protect yourself and loved ones from harmful VOCs by practicing a few simple precautions.

  • Read the labels on products before you buy them in an effort to purchase VOC-free products. If the products you buy contain VOCs, follow or exceed manufacturer’s precautions.
  • Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
  • Use sealant on all exposed surfaces of paneling and other furnishings.
  • Do not store opened containers of unused paint and similar materials, and dispose of partially full or old containers because gases can leak from them.
  • Buy limited quantities of products containing VOCs.

Finally, if you are planning to remodel your home, consider hiring a certified remodeling professional who will understand how to recognize and safely handle these and other safety concerns around the home. Also, check out our post on remodeling and toxic chemicals, where you can get first-hand advice from contractors themselves.


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