Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
Chemicals that emit gas are called VOC. Another common term, Total VOC (TVOC) is a combined variety of organic chemicals that emit gas. They are measured in micrograms per meter cubed (µg/m3) of air, parts per million (ppm), or parts per billion (ppb). Most buildings will have TVOC levels ranging from 100-500 µg/m3 (Aerias). Table 1, below, is used as a guide to compare TVOC results with its symptoms.

Table 1: TVOC and Symptoms























TVOCSymptoms
< 200 µg/m3No irritation or discomfort expected
200 – 3,000 µg/m3Irritation and discomfort may be possible
3,000 – 25,000 µg/m3Discomfort expected and headache possible
> 25,000 µg/m3Toxic range where other neurotoxic effects may occur

Source from Aerias

Concentrations of many VOC are consistently (up to ten times) higher indoors than outdoors (US Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). Therefore, some VOC are regulated due to its short and long term affects on the health of humans. For example, the most common VOC is formaldehyde. On average, formaldehyde levels measured over a day in Canadian homes were 20-40 μg/m3 (16-32.5 ppb). Daily levels as high as 95 μg/m3 (77 ppb), however, have been recorded (Health Canada, 2009b). This chemical is strictly regulated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) as it has been known to cause cancer. Table 2, below, lists a few common VOC along with the recommended exposure limit (REL) of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), permissible exposure limit (PEL) of OSHA, identified symptoms if exposed to the chemical and some examples of products that contain the chemical.

Table 2: Common VOC





































































ChemicalExposure LimitSymptomsA Few Examples
Acetone
C3H6O
NIOSH REL:
TWA 250 ppm (590 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 1000 ppm (2400 mg/m3)
Eyes/nose/throat irritation
Headache
Dizziness
Central nervous system depression
Nail polish remover
Paint thinners
Sanitary cleaner
Arsine
AsH3
NIOSH REL:
0.002 mg/m3 [15-min]

OSHA PEL:
TWA 0.05 ppm (0.2 mg/m3)
Headache
Malaise
Lassitude
Dizziness
Dyspnea
Nausea
Vomiting

Lung & lymphatic cancer
Semi-conducting materials
Chemical warfare
Benzene
C6H6
NIOSH REL:
TWA 0.1 ppm ST 1 ppm

OSHA PEL:
TWA 1 ppm ST 5 ppm
Eyes/nose/throat irritation
Dizziness
Headache
Nausea
Anorexia
Lassitude

Leukemia
Tobacco smoke
Stored fuel
Paint supplies
Auto emission
Laboratory solvent
Formaldehyde
CH2O
NIOSH REL:
TWA 0.016 ppm

OSHA PEL:
TWA 0.75 ppm ST 2 ppm
Eyes/nose/throat irritation
Coughing
Wheezing

Nasal cancer
Carpet
Pill capsules
Disinfectant
Preservative in vaccines
Pressed wood
Hydrogen Sulfide
H2S
NIOSH REL:
10 ppm (15 mg/m3) [10-min]

OSHA PEL:
20 ppm - 50 ppm [10-min max peak]
Eyes/nose/throat irritation
Coma
Conjunctivitis
Dizziness
Headache
Lassitude
Irritability
Insomnia
Crude petroleum
Natural gas
Hot springs
Volcanoes
Nitric Oxide
NO
NIOSH REL:
TWA 25 ppm (30 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 25 ppm (30 mg/m3)
Unconsciousness
Eye irritation
Drowsiness
Wet skin/nose/throat
Tobacco smoke
Vehicle exhaust
Vaccines
Phosphine
PH3
NIOSH REL:
TWA 0.3 ppm (0.4 mg/m3) ST 1 ppm (1 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 0.3 ppm (0.4 mg/m3)
Nausea
Vomiting
Abdominal pain
Diarrhea
Chest tightness
Dyspnea
Pulmonary edema
Clothing
Microelectronics
Pesticide
StyreneNIOSH REL:
TWA 50 ppm (215 mg/m3) ST 100 ppm (425 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 100 ppm C 200 ppm 600 ppm (5-min max peak in any 3 hrs)
Eyes/nose irritation
Headache
Lassitude
Dizziness
Confusion
Malaise
Drowsiness
Narcosis
Reproductive effects
Synthetic rubber
Insulation
Fiberglass
Pipes
Auto and boat parts
Food containers
Carpet backing
Toluene
C7H8
NIOSH REL:
TWA 100 ppm (375 mg/m3) ST 150 ppm (560 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 200 ppm C 300 ppm 500 ppm (10-min max peak)
Eyes/nose irritation
Lassitude
Confusion
Euphoria
Muscle fatigue
Insomnia
Paresthesia
Dermatitis
Liver/kidney damage
Feedstock
Paint solvents
Gasoline
Silicone sealants
Printing ink
Adhesives
Disinfectants
Xylene
C6H4C2H6
NIOSH REL:
TWA 100 ppm (435 mg/m3) ST 150 ppm (655 mg/m3)

OSHA PEL:
TWA 100 ppm (435 mg/m3)
Eyes/nose/throat/skin irritation
Dizziness
Drowsiness
Corneal vacuolization
Anorexia
Vomiting
Abdominal pain
Dermatitis
Plastic bottles
Polyester clothing
Cleaning agents
Paint thinner
Paints & varnishes
Gasoline
Concrete sealers

TWA = Time Weighted Average

Written by: Teresa Kouch, Marketing

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