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Guide to volatile organic compounds VOCs in indoor air: this article explains steps to improve indoor air quality in homes, focused on the volatile organic compounds or VOCs often found indoors. These include MVOCs from mold, benzene, methylene chloride, and perchloroethylene among others. At TOXIC GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS we discuss the exposure effects for various toxic gases. Also see MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS where we discuss the source and effects of mold related odors and MVOCs in buildings; also see MOLD ODORS, Musty Smells in buildings and see MYCOTOXIN EFFECTS of MOLD EXPOSURE.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved.ODOR DIAGNOSIS CHECKLIST, PROCEDURE.
Many organic compounds are used during construction. Others are 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.
In its TEAM study, the Environmental Protection Agency found that the average level of 12 common organic pollutants was two to five times higher in houses than outdoors, although still 1,000 times less than short-term occupational limits.
The health effects of high concentrations of VOCs vary from the highly toxic and carcinogenic to no known effect. The impact of long-term exposure at the levels found in households, however, is less well understood.
Health Effects. As with most pollutants, the health effect depends on individual sensitivities as well as the level and duration of the exposure.
Common acute symptoms from moderate levels of exposure to VOCs indoors include eye and respiratory irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment.
Effects on the nervous system from exposure to VOCs are similar to those from alcohol consumption.
Paints and coatings, adhesives, sealants, and a variety of other building products and materials produce high concentrations of VOCs when they are first applied or installed.
At these levels, even non sensitive individuals might experience symptoms such as eye and respiratory irritation. To avoid problems, new homes should be allowed to air out for at least a couple of weeks before being occupied, particularly if the weather is too cold to leave windows open. In cold weather, the home should be heated with ventilation systems run at full speed to help drive off the volatile compounds.
To limit exposure to household VOCs, the best strategy is to find alternative products. When that is not possible, carefully follow directions, use in well-ventilated areas, and do not store partially used containers in living spaces.
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about indoor VOC contamination cause, diagnosis, cure
Question: intermittent source of indoor paint odors hard to track down
We remodeled our building over 6 months ago and in the past 2 to 3 months a couple of our offices have strong odors of paint off and on.
Sometimes its stronger in the morning and the next time its in the afternoon. No consistency to really pinpoint where it's coming from. It seemed to be coming from the air vents but we had our a/c heating company come check and they didn't find anything. They cleaned out the air ducts and put new filters in and the smell is still there. Today it is really bad. Its about 1:37 pm now.
Last time we noticed it was on Friday around 3:00pm so time varies. We are at our wits end on what to do about it. It is nauseating and would like to know why it's not something we smell all the time and why it's not at the same time every day. - Debbie 6/19/12
Usually odors from new paint dissipate in a few days, perhaps longer if a building is enclosed and has little fresh air makeup. Increasing fresh air ventilation might help in the case you describe too, though during hot humid weather that's less fun than it would be during cooler drier fall days.
Assuming that you are confident that the odor is related to the new paint (there are plenty of other possible odor sources in buildings) I wonder if there is a relationship between sun exposure, or indoor temperatures and the new paint.
Also, if odors are being transported from one building area to another via the HVAC system, the transport would correlate with when the blower unit is operating - which may not be precisely the same hour every day.
You might try our SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors on some suspect or recently-painted surfaces to confirm that the odor that is bothering you is indeed from those surfaces - if not it's time to start looking further into the question.
Questions & answers or comments about testing for VOCs, finding the source of VOCs, & removing indoor VOCs or volatile organic compounds
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