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Last edited 02 Aug 2018
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.
- 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.
 Find out more
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- Hazardous substances.
- Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990.
- Ozone depleting substances.
- Structural adhesives.
- Workplace exposure limits.
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