Abbreviated as VOCs, Volatile Organic Compounds are the silent killers in many homes. Was that startling? These compounds are usually emitted into the atmosphere in gaseous form or found dissolved in water.

They are produced through man-made organic chemicals. While these substances have varied use cases in industries like home care, personal grooming, furniture, etc., they are anything but harmless.

This article will explore the origins of VOCs, how harmful they are, and ways to protect yourself from their negative impact.

Where Do VOCs Originate From?

According to the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs are industrial solvents produced at the time of manufacturing refrigerants, pharmaceuticals, and paints or varnishes.

They may also originate from the process of water chlorination and are found in products like chloroform. Other products containing VOCs may be a part include:

  • Paint thinners
  • Hydraulic fluids
  • Dry cleaning agents
  • Petroleum fuels
  • Building materials
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Crafting tools such as adhesives and glues
  • Photographic solutions

What’s even more shocking is that VOCs are used in numerous household items like disinfectants, cosmetics, paints, wax, etc. The EPA’s surveys revealed that VOCs are at least two to five times more commonly found within a household than outside.

How Harmful Are VOCs to Your Health?

Among other disturbing discoveries about VOCs, the EPA also found that people tend to expose themselves to abnormal levels of VOCs. This is because these compounds remain in the air and water long after the initial activity (through which they originated) has ended.

Both in their vapor and dissolved liquid form, VOCs pose a variety of health risks. For instance, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency revealed that VOCs, in their vaporized form, can cause conditions like:

  • Eye irritation
  • Throat soreness and congestion
  • Nausea
  • Severe headaches
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Damage to the kidneys, Central Nervous System (CNS), and liver

VOCs in their water-dissolved form have even more disastrous consequences. One such example is the Camp Lejeune water contamination tragedy. Taking place between 1953 and 1987, three large water distribution tanks at this Marine Corps base were heavily contaminated with VOCs like trichloroethylene, benzene, etc.

Over four decades of water consumption led its veteran and civilian residents to develop deadly conditions like:

  • Behavioral defects
  • Miscarriages
  • Infertility issues
  • Different types of cancers, such as liver, bladder, and breast cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The Fed ran several rigorous investigations over the next two decades. Under President Obama, the Janey Ensminger Act was passed in 2012 to provide victims with medical care. Finally, the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was passed in 2022. Signed by President Biden on August 9th, this Act gave victims the right to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit

Claims are made by those directly affected, families of the deceased, families of babies born with birth defects, and more. According to TorHoerman Law, some victims are receiving $10,000 while others get up to $500,000 in settlements depending upon the injuries suffered. 

Ways to Protect Yourself from the Harmful Impact of VOCs

The US Department of Health admits that there is no standard for VOC exposure. VOC toxicity depends on different individual chemicals. It suggests that as soon as you notice health issues, consult with a healthcare provider and do the following:

1.      Limit VOC Exposure

Be it in the water or air, the best way to stay safe from VOCs is to limit exposure. One way to do this is to only purchase items like paints, adhesives, glues, etc., as and when needed.

Having these items scattered around the home may lead to leakage. This will release VOCs into the air. As for water, try investing in biodegradable cleaning agents. Also, never dump chemical cleaning agents into home drains. 

2.      Control the Ventilation and Climate of Your Home

As you limit the bad, invite more of the good simultaneously. This includes improving ventilation and the amount of fresh air that enters every room.

Keep the home’s humidity levels low through a humidifier. Also, perform home renovations when the house is vacant. 

3.      Opt for Low VOC Products

Another way to protect yourself against the negative impact of VOCs is to invest in products with low VOC content. A low-VOC paint would not have more than 50 gms/liter for the top coat. Standard paints emit eight times the VOCs when compared to low-VOC paints!

Similarly, opt for fabric shower curtains instead of vinyl. Invest in non-toxic sealants and natural cleaners instead of commercial ones.

Prevention Is the Best Defense!

In light of the adverse consequences of VOC exposure, knowledge becomes power and prevention, the best stronghold.  These seemingly useful compounds demand a heavy price in terms of environmental damage and health risks.

At the end of it all, is it worth it? In some cases, you can completely say no to VOC products. In others, limit your exposure or opt for low-VOC content. These practices will improve indoor air quality, maintain water purity, and preserve your health – win-win-win!

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