Volatile Organic CompoUnds
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature. VOCs are harmful to humans in the indoor environment. In the atmosphere, VOCs react with sunlight and other chemicals to form smog, which is not only unsightly, but is a health hazard for asthmatics and others with respiratory ailments.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that VOC levels may be up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. This is especially true in new buildings that are very well sealed, and that contain a plethora of synthetic materials. Common sources of VOCs in indoor air include offgassing (chemical release into the air) from new carpets, furniture, and pressed wood products; window treatments and wallpaper; paints, adhesives, and floor finishes; and cleaning chemicals and photocopier fluids. When VOCs are present at high enough concentrations and ventilation is inadequate, occupants can be afflicted with “sick building syndrome,” a group of symptoms that includes headaches, fatigue, nausea and dizziness, itchy skin, and throat and eye irritation. In some cases symptoms are relieved when occupants leave the building; in other cases they can linger for weeks or months.
People are also exposed to high levels of VOCs while they’re using products containing organic compounds, such as paints and adhesives, and many common building materials. According to the EPA, high VOC levels can persist in the air long after the activity is completed. When inhaled in sufficient concentrations, VOCs can also cause memory impairment, vomiting, nosebleeds, and diffulty breathing. Many VOCs are known to cause cancer in animals, and are known or suspected to cause cancer in humans.
By using zero-VOC paints, you can reduce your exposure to chemicals such as ethylene glycol and formaldehyde: known carcinogens that are are also suspected to be toxic to the nervous system, immune system, kidneys, reproductive organs, and other systems.