If you have ever discussed or read about indoor air quality you are probably no stranger to the term VOC. VOCs can be found in almost any cleaning product. The “V” in VOC stands for volatile, which means that these chemicals have a low boiling point and can go into a gaseous state at a low temperature. The “O” simply stands for organic and the “C” stands for compounds.
Many VOC’s are known irritants and toxins. If exposed to VOCs for prolonged periods can cause serious adverse effects on your health and jeopardize lung care. These effects include asthma and other respiratory diseases; liver and kidney dysfunction; neurologic impairment; and cancer. Signs of prolonged exposure include irritation to the nose, throat and eyes; breathlessness; headache; nausea; dizziness; and fatigue.
However, not all VOC’s are bad. Plant essential VOCs like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus and oranges produce liquids that are natural VOCs and are non-harmful to anyone maintaining proper lung care. Although, when levels of ozone are high natural VOCs like citrus and pine essential oils become deadly by mixing with the ozone and creating formaldehyde.
Three factors for harmful VOC
When dealing with VOCs there are three factors that come in to play in deciding how unsafe a VOC is.
Concentration: Concentration refers to the fact that a toxic chemical is less likely to harm you if you’re exposed to small amounts for short periods of time.
Toxicity levels: The toxicity level of VOCs might be the most important factor to consider, for example Volatile organic compounds like Menthol from peppermint are completely non-harmful. So much so that it is used to flavor a variety of candies.
Frequency and length: frequency and length of exposure are major factors to consider when dealing with VOC’s. Workers who are constantly exposed to high levels of VOCs are at a higher risk of obtaining health defects to the respiratory system than consumers of products.
Other sources of harmful VOCs
Cleaning products are not the only sources of harmful VOC’s, other air contaminants could be contributing to respiratory health problems in your home, for example Tobacco. As you may know, smoking is still the number one risk factor of lung cancer. Although, there have been multiple campaigns to publicizes the deadly side effects of the habit, it is still as prevalent a VOC as ever. It may also come as no surprise that cigarette smoke contains several carcinogens as well as thousands of harmful chemical VOCs such as benzene, ethylbenzene, acetone, ammonia, carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.
The second leading cause of lung cancer is the chemical Radon. Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas that is usually emitted as the result of decaying uranium. As airborne particles are inhaled Radon can cause the creation of free radical cells that will lead to cancer in the respiratory system. Because of the human bodies’ inability to detect radon gas, all homes should be tested for radon, regardless of geographic location, according to the EPA.
The third VOC that heavily contributes to lung cancer is asbestos. Although, in recent years asbestos has been exposed as a carcinogen and abandoned as a building and insolation material, many buildings and structures from the mid-19th century contain asbestos in high amounts.
Asbestos can usually be found in a solid form, but, after some time asbestos will decay into airborne particles that can cause serious health defects. If asbestos is found in your home it is best to contact professionals rather than attempt to remove the substance by yourself. Mishandling of asbestos can cause it to release particles at an accelerated pace.
Cleaning products such as chlorine are also known to produce harmful VOCs that can lead to lung cancer and many other respiratory and general health issues. Liquid chlorine contains a 5.25 percent solution of sodium hypochlorite. Fumes from liquid chlorine can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Chlorine can combined with compounds found in water to create trihalomethanes.
Trihalomethanes are a type of VOC called disinfection byproducts (DBPs). DBP, are linked to cases of cancer and miscarriage in staggeringly high amounts.
So there you have it, with this knowledge on VOCs and why you should try your hardest to avoid them maybe you can breathe just a bit easier.
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