Monday, July 5, 2010

EcoMonday: What's a VOC?

You know that VOCs are bad for you. You might even know that VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. And you might even have worked your way past the fact that "organic" typically means something good, but that VOCs are to be avoided. So why are they bad for you, and how can you best avoid them?

Even charts that attempt to describe VOCs graphically can be confusing. Read on to find out more about VOCs.

VOCs aren't anything new. Speaking in broad terms of everyday household items, a VOC is anything that changes into gaseous form as you use it, after which it combines with other gases to contribute to ozone.
Not good, right?
Although you can't really avoid VOCs like methane, you can easily ensure that VOCs have a minimal place in your indoor spaces (The EPA estimates that indoor air quality is often five times worse than outdoor air quality, for obvious reasons: air comes into your home, but unless you've got a constant open-door, open-window policy, it doesn't always make its way out.)
At the Hub, we used low-VOC paints (water-based), and also rely on standards like those from Design for the Environment to ensure that our cleaning products are low-VOC. Our carpets and furniture are also low-VOC. We've also taken a hard look at the Green Seal to help us to hunt down cleaning and household items that allow us to be as ecologically sensitive as possible.

(Yes, it's true. Carpets and furniture, which end up making use of sealants, laminates, or adhesives, can carry a dangerously large amount of VOCs.)
Practically speaking, VOCs may not have short-term effects, although we know a girl who gets woozy at the smell of VOC paint and particle- and press-board. But studies have shown that career painters are susceptible to cancers that can be traced directly back to VOCs.
We buy low-VOC for many reasons, but the health of our employees and clients is top of the list. What types of measures do you take in your office for your employee and client health?
Find a full list of Design for the Environment-certified products here. And Home Depot's Eco Options program is a good source for hunting down low- or no-VOC paints.

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