Perhaps one of your 2017 New Year’s resolutions is to be more environmentally-aware, going beyond recycling household trash to make a difference. Well, here’s another one to add to your ever-growing list of bad chemicals and substances to watch out for: Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOC’s”). As the name suggests, these are organic (carbon-containing) chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. In layman’s terms, VOC’s evaporate from the solid substance in which they are contained in the form of gases. They can be found in all sorts of things, including items found in most every household: cosmetic products (i.e. nail polish), cleaning solutions, paint, degreasers, automotive fluids and many others.
A VOC is not, in and of itself, an “ingredient.” That is, you won’t be able to look at the ingredient list of a particular product and assume that because “VOC” isn’t listed that the product doesn’t contain any. Actually, there are many different ingredients that are considered to be VOC’s. One example that is familiar to most people is formaldehyde. However, there are a number of other common ones as well. Unless you happen to have comprehensive knowledge of every kind of VOC, you might have a hard time telling which products have them and which don’t.
Here is one simple way, though, that even young children can detect the presence of a VOC in a product: by using your nose. VOCs almost always have very strong, unpleasant, chemical-like scents. If it makes your eyes water, your throat constrict or your head hurt when you catch a whiff of it, it likely contains one or more VOC’s.
What are the Risks?
VOC’s are not considered to be “acutely toxic.” That is, smelling them or coming into contact with them will probably not cause immediate illness (although some may cause burns when in contact with skin). However, the effects of exposure to VOC’s can be cumulative. This means that they can build up in the human body and, if not expelled, can cause illness down the road, including certain types of cancers.
People who are most at risk of suffering the cumulative effects of VOC’s are those whose work involves daily exposure to them, such as painters (house painters and artists alike), nail techs and hair stylists and even, surprisingly, bakers (VOC’s are by-products of yeast fermentation). Occasional exposure (such as painting your nails at home) poses minimal to negligible risk, as long as proper handling procedures are followed.
Unfortunately, VOCs are also harmful to the environment. In the atmosphere, VOC’s wreak havoc by forming poisonous particulate matter (i.e. smog) or combining with nitrogen oxide (a greenhouse gas) and forming ozone close to the ground. For this reason, many countries are researching ways to reduce the use of VOCs and restricting industries’ production of them.
Great, now what?
In our next blog, we’ll tell you how to spot VOC’s in common household products and how to get around potentially-harmful exposure. You’ll also find out how Tailored Living is helping reduce their use.