Friday, September 3, 2010

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are carbon compounds that can vaporize (become a gas) at normal room temperatures and therefore tend to evaporate from a building products into the air over time. VOC-type chemicals are used to manufacture some plastics and used in binders and resins for products such  as composite wood or insulation, paints, coatings and adhesives, and treatments to provide water resistance or to enhance stain repellence. Some typical problematic VOC compounds released from building materials include formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, toluene, isocyanates, xylene, and benzene. VOCs are often emitted at high levels when a product is first installed if wet and taper off to lower levels over time. Solid materials,  such as flooring, fabric, furniture and furnishings emit more slowly initially and  maintain a low level of emissions over a longer period of time. Building materials wrapped in plastic at point of manufacture and unwrapped at the project site can emit concentrated VOCs when uncovered.

VOCs are part of atmospheric photochemical reactions making smog. Many of them have direct health effects as well. Some VOCs have been associated with short-term acute sick building syndrome symptoms, as well as other longer-term chronic health effects, such as damage to the liver, kidney and nervous systems, and increased cancer risk. One of the VOCs of greatest concern is formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. The potential environmental and health effects of formaldehyde have raised such high levels of concern that international and national bodies have begun to set strict limitations on formaldehyde emissions from some product classes where formaldehyde can typically be found. Several countries have taken steps to regulate formaldehyde emissions in fabrics including Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Norway. In addition to formaldehyde, other VOCs such as benzene, acetylaldehyde, toluene, and xylene raise health and environmental concerns. The solvent benzene, for example, is associated with the increased risk of leukemia, toluene (another solvent) is associated with lung cancer, and benzene, toluene and xylene are all associated with an increased risk of nonhodgkin’s lymphoma.

Formaldehyde is almost always found in particle board, used to make less expensive cabinets. In fact you will be hard pressed to find kitchen or bathroom cabinets that are not made with Formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also used in permanent press clothing. It is recommended that you wash permanent press clothing more than once before first wearing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment