Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

What Are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?


Volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s may be found in products such as gasoline, refrigerants, adhesives, and solvents. Many organic compounds are used during construction, but others may be used daily in cleaning fluids, cosmetics, and hobby materials. These include the solvents in paints, caulk, and adhesives, as well as the ingredients in hair sprays, carpet and oven cleaners, floor and furniture polishes, and pesticides.

Results from studies conducted as part of the state of Washington’s East Campus Plus Program showed that 96 percent of the VOCs found in a large office building following construction resulted from the materials used to construct and furnish the building.

Studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.EPA) and other researchers have found that VOCs are common in indoor environments and that their levels may be two to a thousand times higher than outdoors. There may be anywhere from 50 to hundreds of individual VOCs in the indoor air at any one time. Some may produce objectionable odors at very low levels, but many have no noticeable smell. Many VOCs are irritants and can cause headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation and dizziness. Long-term exposure to certain VOCs may lead to chronic diseases or cancer. At high concentrations, some VOCs are toxic.

What are the Symptoms & Effects of VOCs?

The health effects of high concentrations of VOC’s vary from being highly toxic and carcinogenic to having no known effect. The impact of long-term exposure at the levels found in households, however, is less well understood.  High levels of VOC concentration have been linked to respiratory conditions, asthma, and other illnesses. This is particularly a problem for children or people with compromised immune systems. The term “sick building syndrome” is often used to describe a building with poor indoor air quality, much of which can be attributed to high VOC concentration levels.

Our team can perform sampling for VOC’s to provide the following:

  • Determine if it contains excessive levels of VOCs
  • Evaluate the likely sources of excessive VOCs
  • Determine if the health of building occupants may be at risk and if professional mitigation is necessary


Alert IconA word of caution: Some test methods are only capable of identifying concentrations at excessive levels.  Some compounds are harmful at levels only detectable through special sampling techniques.