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April 2021

5 frequently asked questions about VOC's

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Environment and Green Hygiene, Air Quality

VOC's are found in just about everything. But what are they, and are they harmful? Our latest blog post answers 5 frequently asked questions about VOC's and offers advice on what you can do to prevent their harmful effects.

We've written about how important indoor air quality is in maintaining the health, wellbeing and productivity of colleagues and customers in a previous blog post. This piece, however, takes a closer look at VOC's which are largely responsible for the fact that toxin levels in climate-controlled buildings are anywhere from 10 to 1000 times more concentrated than the toxin levels experienced outdoors.

But how much do people really know about VOC's? 

Here are the 5 most frequently asked questions about VOC's

1. What are VOC's? 

VOC's or volatile organic compounds are gases that are emitted into the air from certain solid or liquid products or processes. They are organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature and low water solubility. Some of the more familiar VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde and toluene.

Some VOC's are harmful by themselves, including some that cause cancer, and some can react with other gases and form other air pollutants after they have been released into the air. Because they are gasses, they are invisible, and ever-present in the air we breathe. 

2. Where do VOC's come from?

VOC's are commonly found in a huge array of building materials, cleaning products and home care products, and are the primary cause of both acute and chronic diseases.

Products that emit VOC’s number in the thousands, making it extremely difficult to eliminate them. Paint and paint strippers, varnishes and finishers, caulks and sealants, flooring and carpets, cleaners and disinfectants, pesticides and air fresheners are just a few of the thousands of products that emit VOC’s. 

3. Are VOC's harmful? 

Breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, can cause difficulty breathing and nausea, and can damage the central nervous system as well as other organs.

Asthma, headaches and chronic diseases - including cancer, neurological failure, and liver damage - have all been linked to VOC’s. In a report tabled by the World Health Organisation in 2002, they state that VOC’s could be responsible for over 1.6m deaths each year. And more recently, the WHO reported that 3.8 million deaths are attributed to household air pollution annually.

4. How can I avoid VOC's in my environment?

With difficulty, when one considers that VOC's are not only found indoors but outdoors as well, from sources such as gasoline, diesel emissions, wood burning, oil and gas extraction and processing and industrial emissions. 

However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still rates indoor air pollution as amongst the top five threats to human life. The EPA found that toxin levels in climate-controlled or sealed buildings were anywhere from 10 to 1000 times more concentrated than toxin levels experienced outdoors.

Let’s just think about that for a moment ... Your office air is more polluted than the air outside. And VOC's are largely to blame. So whilst you can't necessarily avoid them, there are things you can do to make your indoor air quality better.

5. What can I do to prevent the harmful effects of VOC's? 

In one's private capacity, the first port of call would be to avoid or limit the use of products with high VOCs, and to try and always choose products that are low in VOCs by looking for "Low VOCs" information on the label.

However, we know that in a commercial or office environment it may not always be possible to remove the pollutants, nor always practical to “ventilate with clean indoor air” (as recommended by the EPA) - especially in winter.

That's where air purification comes in. A good air purifier will filter out harmful airborne particles such as VOC's, malodours, allergens, bacteria, viruses, spores, mildew, yeast, and moulds, and thus reduce the level of contamination in the air. You can read more about how an air purifier does this in our blog post: "How does my air purifier work?"

You may also be interested in this infographic from a recent Rentoki-Initial survey of 2,000 consumer opinions on the role of air quality and the transmission of diseases.

Initial has a wide range of air purification options available, including the new VIRUSKILLER™ which will be landing in South Africa in the next couple of weeks, make sure to subscribe to the mailing list to be notified of when it lands! You can also find out more about the importance of air quality in our 'Air Hygiene: Invisible, yet critical' whitepaper.

Find out what consumers have to say about air quality in a consumer survey from Rentokil-Initial

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

I joined Rentokil Initial South Africa in 2004 as the PA to the MD, and after 6 months maternity leave I re-joined the Company in 2009 as the Marketing Co-ordinator for Rentokil. I'm now the Marketing Communication Manager for Rentokil Initial. I'm still terrified of cockroaches (Americana's only!) but the rest of the creepy crawlies we deal with don't really bug me (see what I did there?), so I guess I'm in the right industry! I am passionate about what we do here at Rentokil Initial and also write for our Hygiene Blog, which can be found at blog.initial.co.za, and our Ambius blog - https://www.ambius.co.za/blog. Life outside of Rentokil Initial mostly revolves around my daughter, who has just turned twelve, and my husband (who is a bit older). I love living in Cape Town and wouldn't trade living here for anywhere else in the world.

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