What We Measure: Chemicals (VOCs)

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January 9, 2022

The smells we associate with newness and cleanliness — a fresh coat of paint, a new carpet, lemon-scented disinfectant — are not as harmless as they may seem. These odors are caused by the release of gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many common building materials and household products.

What are airborne chemicals (VOCs)?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) is an umbrella term used to describe any organic chemical that evaporates easily at room temperature. These chemicals are released or “off-gassed” into the indoor air we breathe.

VOCs are emitted from thousands of products from paints and varnishes to cleaning products to furniture and carpets. We measure VOCs collectively rather than individually as total VOCs (TVOCs).

Of the 82,000 chemicals in commercial use, 85% do not have any available health data.


Why measure VOCs?
While VOCs aren’t acutely toxic, they have a cumulative effect on health and comfort. They are linked to a variety of health problems from minor eye irritation to eczema flare-ups, allergies, asthma, and headaches. Long-term exposure has also been known to contribute to the risk of developing serious illnesses. 

The cost of poor indoor air quality
Study after study has shown that good ventilation, or fresh outdoor air brought inside is a critical determinant of health. The buildup of indoor air pollutants has been shown to increase absenteeism, decrease productivity, and drive symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome.

A Harvard study estimates that the cost of doubling ventilation rates would be less than $40 per person per year (even less with energy efficient ventilation systems). While the productivity benefits are $6,500 per person per year. 

While research by the World Green Building Council suggests that better indoor air quality alone can lead to productivity improvements of 8 to 11%.

Track toxins and chemicals indoors
A foundational step toward reducing the VOCs in your indoor air is knowing that they are present. Awair provides alerts when Total VOCs are high, allowing you to assess and rectify the situation.