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What are TVOCs and why is it important to monitor them?

With the time people spend inside only increasing, we need to be confident that the air we breathe, whether at home, work or school, is safe. One group of pollutants that should be monitored are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a diverse group of indoor pollutants that all have similar chemical properties. Benzene, Formaldehyde and Ethylene Glycol are just a few examples.

Due to the large number of VOCs, they are hard to continuously monitor, so a measurement, total volatile organic compounds (TVOC), has been adopted to measure the overall VOCs in any given area.

Most VOCs come from everyday household objects

Examples include:

  • Paints and Solvents

  • New Furniture and Carpets

  • Cleaners and Disinfectants

  • Electronic Devices

  • Air Fresheners

Whilst some VOCs, such as those produced by plants, aren’t that dangerous, others including benzene and formaldehyde can be very harmful as they are human carcinogens. Hazardous VOCs tend to come from glues, paints, new furniture, cleaning products and cigarettes.

Long-term exposure to VOCs can be very damaging to our health, so as well as monitoring the air quality, it is also important to recognise the symptoms which can include:

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches and nausea

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation

  • Allergic skin reaction

So what can we do to protect ourselves against VOCs?

  • Don’t smoke inside (second hand smoke is still harmful)

  • Only use household products as directed because storing them incorrectly or not using them properly can be dangerous

  • Purchase low VOC versions of products

  • Improve ventilation

  • Use an indoor air quality monitor with a carbon filter - VOCs are invisible toxins which are sometimes even odourless. Use your monitor to spot trends (for example levels often peak whilst cooking), and identify sources that are producing a lot of VOCs allowing you to act accordingly.

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