September 5

3 Hidden Sources of VOCs in Your Home


Outdoor pollution hits the headlines every now and then, but rarely does the world talk about indoor pollution. A handful of research conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reveals that indoor air pollutant concentration in school classrooms, workplaces, and homes is two to five times greater than outdoors. 

It wouldn’t have been a matter of concern if we didn’t breathe about 20,000 times a day. But because we do, it makes sense to confirm that the air we breathe is pure. 

In indoor settings, VOCs are a growing concern because of the numerous health issues linked with them. Almost all household products contain VOCs, but which are the common ones? 

In this article, we’ll discuss the three most common household products that contain VOCs. 

VOCs: An Overview

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are man-made chemicals that are found in a plethora of items. Industrial solvents, such as trichloroethylene, and by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform, and fuel oxygenate, such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), are VOCs. 

Exposure to VOCs is linked with certain types of cancers, kidney and liver toxicity, neurological and respiratory damage, and heart-related diseases. Products or processes that contain VOCs emit them into the air, because of which exposure to them is unavoidable. Drinking water is also a common source of VOC exposure due to industrial discharge. 

When speaking of VOCs in drinking water, the Camp Lejeune water contamination tragedy deserves mention. In the early 1950s, the camp’s drinking water supplies were contaminated with volatile organic compounds. Perchloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were found in the drinking water supply of Camp Lejeune. Spills or leaks from waste disposal sites, underground storage tanks, and businesses contaminated the water supply of the military base. 

Between 1953 and 1987, around one million people were present at the Marine Corps Base of Camp Lejeune. Understandably, each one of them was exposed to the VOCs present in Camp Lejeune’s water supply. 

As per TorHoerman Law, incidences of kidney cancer, renal toxicity, esophageal cancer, cervical cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were reported among those exposed to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated water. 

Since the Camp Lejeune Justice Act was passed, thousands of veterans have filed the Camp Lejeune lawsuit. On average, Camp Lejeune’s water contamination settlement amount is anticipated to be between $10,000 and $500,000. 

3 Hidden Sources of VOCs in Home

Here are the most common sources of VOCs in homes:

1. Furniture

Many manufacturers craft furniture from MDF, plywood, or composite materials. These materials use a blend of urea-formaldehyde binding agents, plastic, and wood fiber. That means furniture pieces are loaded with VOCs. 

If you’ve got new furniture, bear in mind that it will emit carcinogenic substances for years. As a result, furniture off-gassing will amass in your home, more so if your home is energy-efficient.

Safer Alternative

Bookcases, nightstands, or dressers—whatever you’re sourcing, look for options made of unfinished or solid wood. Also, look for Greenguard Gold certification to be on the safe side. 

2. Flooring

Carpets are yet another hidden source of VOCs in most homes. The rug fibers and backing are the two main components of wall-to-wall carpeting. Of course, VOC emission stems mainly from the rug’s backside because it features latex, rubber, plastic, or polyvinyl. Many times, the rear side of carpets is covered with an antimicrobial chemical treatment, which further increases VOC pollution indoors. 

Vinyl flooring, when strengthened with chemicals, off-gasses for years. Exposure to these VOCs has an adverse effect on human health, which could include kidney issues, breathing problems, and cancers. 

Safer Alternative

Opt for carpets made of carefully sourced natural materials that aren’t treated chemically. Also, go for rugs or carpets with organic certifications for peace of mind. In regard to flooring, options made of bamboo or natural wood will be the best bet. Don’t forget to check the glue and varnishes used to treat them. 

3. Household Paint

The distinctive odor you smell after painting your home might make it feel fresh and new. But that “new paint” smell carries harmful chemicals, i.e., VOCs. When you inhale the air full of VOCs, you’re at an increased risk of short and long-term health effects. Respiratory tract infection, headaches, and cancer are a few health issues linked with exposure to VOCs in household paints. 

Safer Alternative

The good news is that there are brands manufacturing non-toxic paints, so why not opt for them instead? Bear in mind that zero-VOC and non-toxic paints are slightly more expensive than conventional ones. 

A Final Word

All in all, our homes contain some or the other products that emit VOCs. Besides the ones mentioned, other sources of VOCs in homes are non-stick cookware, air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, and mattresses. 

Just because VOCs are found in almost every product, it doesn’t mean you should sit back and breathe them. Bring home an air purifier, as it will eliminate VOCs from the indoor air. 

Doing a bit of research is recommended when it comes to upgrading to VOC-free household items. Evaluate the available options and start upgrading items one by one, according to your budget. 


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