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Environmental and Workplace Health

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that easily become gases at room temperatures, and therefore are released into indoor air in homes from a variety of products.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large and diverse family of chemicals that contain carbon and hydrogen. They can be emitted into indoor air from a variety of sources including cigarette smoke, household products like air fresheners, furnishings and building materials such as paint, varnish and glues. They are also found in gasoline and other fuels and can enter the home through vehicle exhaust or vapours from stored fuel coming from attached garages or traffic outside.

What Are the Health Risks?

Some VOCs such as benzene and toluene are known to be toxic, but only at concentrations far above those typically found in Canadian homes. There is limited evidence that directly links VOC mixtures found in homes to known health problems. Concerns about VOCs arise from the hypothesis that, when combined, the toxicity of hundreds of VOCs could "add up" to create health hazards, but this remains unproven.

How Do I Prevent or Fix the Problem?

  • Prevent people from smoking indoors: Second-hand smoke contains several VOCs so it makes sense to prevent people from smoking in your home.
  • No idling: Do not run cars or other gas powered engines in attached garages, and keep the door between the house and the garage closed. Vehicle exhaust contains several VOCs and other pollutants.
  • Properly store fuels: Gasoline or other fuels will release VOCs into the air; so make sure they are stored in proper containers. It is best if you do not store gasoline in your home.
  • Use chemical products as directed: Follow label safety and usage instructions and properly dispose of any leftover or unwanted products
  • Open the windows: Ensure sufficient ventilation during major painting or varnishing projects, or when installing wall-to-wall carpets using glues or adhesives.
  • Choose low-emission products when possible: Some paints and varnishes that are labelled as "low emission" products emit fewer VOCs than others and are a great choice.
  • Avoid some personal-care products and cleaning products: One easy tip to improve the quality of your indoor air is to avoid the use of plug-ins or aerosol deodorizers (air fresheners).

Where Can I Get More Information?

Did you know?

Concerns about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) arise from the hypothesis that, when combined, the toxicity of hundreds of VOCs could "add up" to create a health hazard, although this remains unproven.