Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds either manmade or naturally occurring that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. VOCs are common in the manufacturing of household and industrial chemicals, cleaners and compounds. VOCS are present in gasoline, hydraulic fluid, household cleaners and industrial degreasers. They can also be found in plastic like PVC pipe and plastic kitchen ware. The rubber in your tires and the vinyl seats also contain VOCs.
VOCs are emitted as gases from some solids or liquids. Many VOCs contribute to air and ground water contamination due to careless handling. However, even with proper handling, the pollutants can still be present at levels considered to be hazardous. Studies have found the pollutants are at higher level in the home than they are outside. Cleaning, disinfecting, degreasing and even hobby products can release pollutants while they are being used and the contaminants can be present for some time after use.
Below is a closer look at the most common types of volatile organic compounds, including their purpose, where they can be found, and the possible health risks from exposure.
Commonly used as an industrial solvent, is a halocarbon. It is a clear, colorless non-flammable liquid with a sweet smell very similar to chloroform. TCE has been used for a variety of purposes ranging from medical applications as an antiseptic and food service applications, but mostly it has been used as an industrial degreaser and for the manufacturing of fluorocarbon refrigerants. Exposure to TCE occurs mainly through contaminated ground water.
TCE exposure can affect the central nervous system; high concentration can lead to tachypnea, many types of cardiac arrhythmia and, in some cases, has been linked to cranial nerve damage.
A synthetic liquid solvent widely used in dry cleaning, fabric manufacturing, often referred to is dry cleaning liquid. It can also be found in wood processing as well as a degreaser. PCE is a colorless, liquid, chlorocarbon. It can be found in glues, wood cleaners, spot removers and suede protectors.
Exposure can happen by inhaling of the fumes and direct contact with the liquid. It is also a ground water and soil contaminate. PCE is labeled as a group 2A carcinogen and like most chlorinated hydrocarbons, it affects the central nervous system. Effects of this compound can include upper respiratory tract irritation, kidney dysfunction and neurological effects, such as dizziness, headache, and impaired coordination.
A natural constituent of crude oil, benzene is an elementary petrochemical. Classified as an aromatic hydrocarbon, it is a highly toxic, colorless, and highly flammable liquid with a sweet smell.
Benzene is used to make other chemicals, polymers, and plastics. It can be found in rubber, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, explosives, and pesticides. Benzene is also produced naturally by volcanoes and wildfires.
The major source for benzene exposure is tobacco smoke, gasoline vapors, vehicle exhaust and industrial emission.
Benzene is a carcinogen which increases the risk of cancer and is a common cause of bone marrow failure. Substantial data also links benzene to Aplastic Anemia, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) Acute Myeloid leukemia (AML) and many other conditions.
Also referred to as chloromethane, this is a colorless, odorless flammable gas. It is a natural and abundant organohalogen in the earth’s atmosphere. It can be produced chemically by treating methanol with hydrochloric acid. Once used as a refrigerant, chloromethane is an important part of the manufacturing process for such things as butyl rubber and petroleum refining.
Methyl chloride contamination to the atmosphere or ground water is of negligible impact. Inhalation of the fumes produces is the biggest concern. This can cause central nervous system effects similar to alcohol intoxication and prolonged exposure can have mutagenic effects.
A colorless, flammable gas that evaporates very quickly. It is used to make polyvinyl chloride commonly known as (PVC). PVC can be found in pipes, vehicle upholstery, and plastic kitchen utensils. Since the chemical evaporates from new vinyl products, high concentrations may be detected inside new cars, in the plumbing isle of your local hardware store and so forth. If you can smell vinyl chloride in the air, the level is too high.
Breathing in too high of an amount of vinyl chloride can be fatal. Exposure to continuous high levels can damage the liver, lungs and kidneys. High levels can damage the heart, affect the ability for blood to clot and the list goes on.