Volatile organic compounds are chemicals used to manufacture and maintain building materials, interior furnishing, cleaning products and personal care products. “Volatile” means that these chemicals evaporate or can easily get into the air at room temperature. “Organic” means these chemicals are carbon based. The term “chemical emissions” refers to VOCs as they evaporate into the air from products.
Studies by the EPA and other researchers from the New York Department of Health, have found that VOCs are common in indoor environments and that their levels may be two to a thousand times higher than outdoors. There may be anywhere from 50 to hundreds of individual VOCs in the indoor air at any one time. Some may produce objectionable odors at very low levels, but many have no noticeable smell.
Many VOCs are irritants and can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer. At high concentrations, some VOCs are toxic.
The majority of VOCs found in the indoor environments originate from building materials, indoor furnishings, cleaning supplies, consumer products and processes, such as printing, cooking, hobbies, cleaning, interior renovations and pesticide applications.