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Are You Being Exposed to Toxic Volatile Organic Compounds?

August 24, 2011

What are volatile organic compounds?

Organic compounds are chemicals that contain carbon and are found in all living things. Volatile organic compounds (or VOC’s), are organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases. Along with carbon, they contain elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulfur or nitrogen. 

VOC’s are released from burning fuel, like gasoline, wood, coal, or natural gas.  They are also released from solbents, paints, glues, and other products used in the home or workplace.   

Examples of volatile organic compounds are gasoline, benzene, formaldehyde, solvents (tolune and xylene), and perchloroethylene (or tetrachloroethylene), the main solvent used in dry cleaning. 

Many VOC’s are used in paint thinners, lacquer thinners, moth repellents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, degreasers, automotive products, and dry cleaning fluids.


You can be exposed to VOC’s outdoors by breathing polluted air that contains them. Outdoors in the summer, the sun and hot temperatures react with pollution to form smog, which contains VOC’s.   

Indoors, products that contain VOC’s release emissions when you use them, and when they are stored. They are found in cleaning, painting, home dry-cleaning products, and hobby supplies, like glues, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. 

At work, you can be exposed to VOC’s if you work at a dry-cleaner, a photography studio, or an office that uses copiers, printers, or correction fluids. You can also be exposed if you work in chemical manufacturing or with petroleum-based products.

Health concerns.  

According to a report on carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program, benzene is known to be a human carcinogen.  Formaldehyde and percholroethylene are reasonably anticipated to be carcinogens.

People at the highest risk of long-term exposure to these three VOC’s are industrial workers who have prolonged exposure to the compounds in the workplace; cigarette smokers; and people who have prolonged exposure to emissions from heavy motor vehicle traffic. 

Long-term exposure to VOC’s can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

Short-term exposure to VOC’s can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment. 

Maid Brigade House Cleaning Services cares about our environment and health of you and your family.  For more information on healthy green living and green cleaning, please log on to and  Watch our video on achieving work/life balance at  To learn more about the hidden allergy and asthma triggers in your home, log on to

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