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A volatile organic compound (VOC) is a type of gas or vapor that is caused by toxic solids or liquids. Numerous household products contain VOCs, though these compounds can also be found outdoors. It is believed that untreated vehicle emissions contain the highest level of VOCs. In addition, chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, and limonene also contain high VOC levels.
The level of VOCs increases in an indoor environment. Many building materials contain a high level of VOCs that are effectively trapped inside of buildings once construction has been completed. Paint, paint thinner, adhesives, wall boards, ceiling tiles, and many other materials used to construct buildings all contain VOCs. Thus, those people who spend a large amount of time inside of office buildings or homes that contain these materials may contract sick building syndrome.
Sick building syndrome is caused by a number of factors, though VOCs are one of the biggest causes of this illness. Due to poor air circulation inside of newly constructed buildings, toxic gasses that are contained within building materials are not able to escape. As a result, those people that breathe VOC-laden air often become ill. However, new green building standards should help to eliminate any building materials that contain VOCs.
Aside from those building materials and household products that contain a high VOC percentage, various office products may also be hazardous to one's health. New office furniture, wall coverings, and certain types of office equipment can all contain VOCs. Some studies have shown that a high VOC level within a home or office may be connected with various forms of cancer, though this has yet to be completely proven.
In addition to those items that contain high VOC levels, consumers should be aware of household products that contain lower VOC levels. Even though these products are deemed safe, there is some speculation as to whether or not products that contain VOCs are harmful to one's health. Products to watch out for include wood furniture that may contain VOC-emitting compounds, cleaning products that contain a large amount of chemicals, and paint products that contain VOCs. Incidentally, paint manufacturers have begun creating products that are low in VOCs.
Various research into the long term effects of VOCs is currently begin conducted throughout the world. Many researchers believe that products and materials that contain a large amount of VOCs may be responsible for illnesses, certain disabilities, and even some types of childhood asthma. At present, it is best to avoid any product that does contain a high VOC level, though this may be hard to do given the number of buildings that are erected using materials that contain a large amount of VOCs.