What Are VOCs?

Tony 07/11/2019
What Are VOCs?

Understanding the environmental effects of these harmful chemicals

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are substances that evaporate at room temperature, and they are commonly found in building materials and household products.

Unfortunately, they are dangerous to humans, animals, and the environment.

Health Effects

VOC exposure in indoor environments can:

  • Irritate the eyes, nose, and throat

  • Cause headaches and dizziness

  • Potentially lead to visual impairment or memory loss

VOCs also contribute to a number of adverse environmental problems, especially in urban areas.

Environmental Effects

Acid Rain

Acid rain is classified as "any precipitation with acidic components."

While normal rain has a pH level of around 5.6, acid rain's pH level is between 4.2 and 4.4.

By lowering the pH level of a body of water, acid rain can indirectly kill aquatic wildlife as well as vegetation that the animals eat.

When acid rain falls on soil, it can wash away vital nutrients trees need to survive and can release aluminum, which harms trees and animals. 


When VOCs and nitrogen oxides combine and react with sunlight, ozone forms at the ground-level, which can lead to smog.

Ground-level ozone formation increases chances of plants developing diseases, reduces growth, and leaves them unable to fight off pests and environmental stress.

Sources of VOCs

An EPA study found levels of common organic pollutants to be two to five times higher inside homes than outside.

Household products that may contain VOCs:

  • Paints and paint strippers

  • Wood preservatives

  • Aerosol sprays

  • Disinfectants and air fresheners

  • Fuels and automotive products

  • Dry-cleaned clothing

  • Pesticides

Outdoor sources of VOCs:

  • Gasoline

  • Diesel emissions

  • Wood burning

How can I reduce VOCs and protect the environment?

  • Protect plants that remove pollutants from the air

  • Refrain from smoking tobacco 

  • Use VOC-free paint and other household products

  • Carpool, use public transit, or simply drive less

  • Find out if your local government sponsors days for the collection of toxic household wastes

But there is some good news: VOC emissions are decreasing. In 1970, there were 34.7 million tons of volatile organic compounds emissions. In 2017, there were 16.2 million tons.