Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that evaporate from a solid or liquid form at room temperature. Some VOCs exist naturally in the environment. Others are manufactured (made by people) and put into things that we use every day.
When VOCs evaporate into the air, they become invisible, so you can’t see them. Many VOCs also have no odor (smell). That makes it easy to breathe them in without knowing it.
The word “volatile” means unstable and possibly dangerous. That word gives you a clue about what VOCs are like — and why we need to be careful with them.
Many things that we use at home, school, and work contain VOCs. These include:
When someone uses a product with VOCs, the VOCs evaporate and stay in the air. This usually happens inside a room or building, because there’s less ventilation (air flow) than outside.
In other words, VOCs can affect indoor air quality. When we say “indoor air quality,” we’re usually talking about how the air you breathe when you’re inside might affect your health. And since most of us spend a lot of time indoors, the quality of that air matters.
You can also get sick by swallowing or touching VOCs. That’s why things such as cleaning supplies have warning labels — and why it’s important to read product warnings.
VOCs can make you sick. Someone who’s been poisoned by a VOC could develop:
Some VOCs can also cause cancer if people are exposed to them for a long period of time.
Some content courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.