Volatile organic compounds VOC
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals that easily vaporise when they are at room temperature. At high levels in the air they can cause damage to human health or to the environment. They originate from a variety of classes of chemicals, including; alphatic, aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, ethers, esters, alcohols, acids and amines.
VOCs are common in industry, widely used in the petrochemical industries and as industrial cleaners and solvents. Other processes that emit VOCs include; printing, surface coating, chemical manufacturing, rubber fabrication, and wood and plastic lamination. In addition to the emissions through industry, VOCs can originate from households and from road transport.
 Effects of VOCs
VOCs can result in harm in a number of ways:
- Direct damage to human health.
- Some VOCs can result in the generation of photochemical oxidants including ozone, in the lowest level of the atmosphere. They are commonly found at ground level close to urban and industrial centres and can contribute to elevated levels of ozone.
- Damage to the ozone layer at the level of the stratosphere.
- Contributing to global climate change.
- Causing offensive smells.
The inhalation of VOCs can cause a variety of health problems depending on the specific chemical and its toxicity.
Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause:
- Irritation to the eyes, nose or throat.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Exacerbating the symptoms of asthma.
Long-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can lead to an increased risk of:
- Liver damage.
- Kidney damage.
- Damage to the central nervous system.
There are a variety of regulations in relation to VOCs, including:
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, which state that workers must be protected from the risks from hazardous substances such as VOC containing solvents.
- The Volatile Organic Compounds in Paints, Varnishes and Vehicle Refinishing Products Regulations 2012.
- The emission of VOCs from industrial processes are regulated under The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Permits specify the limits of emission and state that the concentration of the pollutant must not be in excess of a certain threshold or that the source must not release more than a certain mass of the pollutant over a set period of time.
Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- Construction dust.
- Contaminated land.
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health.
- Deleterious materials.
- Environmental legislation.
- Environmental policy.
- Hazardous substances.
- Ozone depleting substances.
 External references
Featured articles and news
The origins, evolution and future of Level 3 BIM.
For new and returning Urban Design students, check out our article list divided up into the modules you'll be studying.
Report states that health of urban dwellers could be significantly improved by rethinking transport design.
The Kremlin, the centre of Russian power, includes some of the country's finest architecture.
Report launched outlining steps for a national infrastructure system that is efficient, sustainable, and delivers until 2050.
A review of Justin Bere's concise and well-presented introductory guide to Passive House.
This article describes in detail the tender process for a typical commercial construction contract.
What is energy storage, what are the different types and what is its future?
MAD Architects reveal their designs for a state-of-the-art concert hall in Beijing.
Take a look at BIG's designs for two twisting towers in New York City.
'The filing cabinet' which was labelled one of the best British buildings of the 21st century.