We are constantly exposed to varying levels of volatile organic compounds .
These organic chemicals get into our ambient air when they are emitted from materials we use during construction or products we use indoors.
A 2006 study measuring VOC levels in newer and older homes during a 3-year period found that VOC levels were highest in newly-built homes, that levels markedly decreased after one year and that there was no significant fluctuation in the older homes.
Still, even if you don’t move from new home to new home, a mix of volatile organic compounds will always affect your indoor air quality. The levels may not be high enough to cause acute reactions, but experts have been ringing the alarm bells over the possible health effects of long-term low exposures.
Fact is, high levels of volatile organic compounds are a health risk. When exposed to higher concentrations of certain VOCs, the EPA says you may experience symptoms such as eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment.
Some VOCs have been shown to affect the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system. Others may cause cancer in humans.
Pretty much all materials and many products used in modern construction off-gas VOCs. There are thousands of sources on the market, according to the EPA.
For example, when the Canadian organization Environmental Defence tested VOC levels in Canadian homes before and after the use of conventional cleaning products, the results were shocking.
In all homes, VOC levels rose during the cleaning process, but there were huge differences between “normal” cleaning products and green versions. However, unverified green claims (undisclosed ingredients on the label) meant that users were exposed to almost as many volatile organic compounds as those using the conventional cleaning products. Reading labels is important when you are trying to reduce VOC exposure.
We should all be mindful of the air quality around us, but if you have children or pets, you need to be extra careful. Not only do many VOC-containing products pose a risk for poisoning, they could also contaminate the air your children are breathing. Children are most vulnerable to VOC exposure since they are still growing and building immunities.
According to Children’s Environment, children may have more exaggerated responses to VOC's as compared to healthy adults.