We hear a lot about VOCs, but what exactly is a VOC?
VOC or Volatile organic compounds are solvents that get released into the air. These can be both human-made and naturally occurring. They have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature. High vapor pressure results from a low boiling point that causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate or sublimate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and enter the surrounding air.
VOCs are all around us in our daily life. Most scents or odors are of VOCs. Naturally occurring VOC are produced by plants, animals, microbes and fungi, such as molds. The smell of a freshly mowed lawn or peeling of an orange skin are good examples of naturally made VOCs
Major sources of man-made VOCs are coatings, especially paints and protective coatings. Solvents are required to spread a protective or decorative film. VOCs can also be found in adhesive removers and aerosol spray paints. Fossil fuels produce VOC’s either directly as products such as gasoline or indirectly as byproducts such as automobile exhaust gas.
Some VOCs can be extremely dangerous. They have been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects ranging from the mild – such as respiratory irritation – to the more serious, such as cancer. VOCs are one of the main reasons behind Sick Building Syndrome. This is where occupants of a building complain of headaches, fatigue and other symptoms that disappear after leaving the building.
Benzene is an example of a dangerous VOC. It can be found in tobacco smoke and stored fuels, it’s used in some paints, adhesives, and furniture wax. It is a known human carcinogen, particularly after long-term exposure, and can cause a range of other nasty health effects including harm to bone marrow, a decrease in red blood cells and a less effective immune system.
Formaldehyde, which is found in a variety of sources including paints, adhesives, floor finishes and some wood products, is another dangerous VOC. It is released slowly and will cause irritation of the eyes and any mucous membranes, particularly in humid environments, which may speed up its rate of release. The effects of temporary exposure to formaldehyde are reversible, but since formaldehyde is another known carcinogen, it’s definitely a compound to avoid.
Not all VOCs are necessarily carcinogenic. Acetone is a solvent used to thin resins and clean tools, and can be found in some paints and varnishes. Despite its strong smell, it’s not considered particularly toxic and is not classed as a carcinogen. It will, however, cause irritation to the eyes upon contact and can trigger respiratory irritation in some cases.
Despite the clear evidence of the hazards of VOCs, they are still legal and widely used in many products. The best way to minimize or avoid them is to look for products marked ‘low-VOC’ or, even better, ‘no-VOC.’ Many paints are marketed with such labels, so avoiding VOCs here may seem easy compared to other interior products such as furniture. Knowing that a manufacturer’s claims regarding VOCs are genuine is another matter. Evidence of third-party certification, such as the Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) ecolabel, shows that a product has been assessed and that any VOCs (if present) are limited to safe levels.
Not everything that smells is a VOC (think ammonia) and not every VOC has a smell (think methane without the added odor agent). That said, there is a strong correlation between VOC’s and smell, but when the levels get low, it’s more about the odor of a few particular VOC’s and the individual’s sensitivity to those VOCs that make the difference. That’s why one person can walk into a room and smell nothing and another can walk in and feel overwhelmed.
The Epoxy Products that New Life Floor uses are 100% solids (100% active ingredients). They do not contain a solvent, that means they have no VOCs, making them compliant with the toughest Low VOC Standards.