Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are chemicals that off-gas from products, such as home furnishings and building materials. Exposure to some VOCs can cause short- and long-term adverse health effects, making indoor air pollution a significant health and safety issue.

The risk is compounded by the fact that many people spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors, according to a study sponsored by the EPA. Levels of VOCs are, on average, 2-to-5 times higher indoors than outdoors, and the application of certain products, like paints, can create even higher VOC levels - up to 1,000 times that what’s normally found outside.

The EPA has found that certain VOCs can produce health effects such as:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Asthma
  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
  • Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Cancer
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Visual disorders and memory impairment

The toxicity of each VOC and the level and length of exposure determine the extent to which a VOC can cause harm. Children are more at risk because their neurological and immune systems are still developing.

Where VOCs Are Found

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), products that emit VOCs include:

  • Solvents like paints, paint strippers, finger nail polish remover
  • Wood preservatives
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleansers and disinfectants
  • Moth repellents
  • Air fresheners
  • Fuels and automotive products
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Pesticides
  • Building materials
  • Furniture
  • Office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
  • Graphics and craft materials like glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions

Take Action

The Indoor Environment Group of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recommends:

  • Increasing ventilation when using products – such as paint – that emit VOCs.
  • Read labels, and follow manufacturer’s precautions and directions for use.
  • Use integrated pest management techniques to reduce the need for pesticides.
  • Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
  • Select products, from cleaners to furniture to solvents, that have been certified for low chemical emissions.

UL has tested more than 50,000 products for the presence of more than 12,000 chemicals to help ensure they are safe and healthy for indoor environments. Products that meet these low emissions levels are GREENGUARD Gold Certified, and you can find the list at ul.com/spot.

Taking all of these recommended steps together can help you reduce your family’s exposure to dangerous VOCs.