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Interview With An Expert: VOCs and Their Impact

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VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are an increasingly dangerous environmental concern, both for indoor and outdoor air quality. Air Quality Engineering dives into this issue and the solutions for businesses with Kyle Bjork, our engineering manager.

Kyle Bjork, engineering managerA graduate from the University of Minnesota, Kyle is an expert in the air quality field, with experience at TSI Inc, DriSteem, and Dustless Technologies. He has been instrumental in product design, development, and manufacturing of many air quality products. Kyle is here to use his expertise to answer the top burning questions about VOCs, their impact on humans and the environment, and solutions to these problems.

What are VOCs?

VOCs are “Volatile Organic Compounds”. They are often found in chemicals or materials used in industrial environments, manufacturing processes, or in manufactured consumer products. They typically have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. These characteristics allow them to easily release dangerous particles and gas into the air. Common compounds that are considered VOCs include:

  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Toluene
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Tetra-Chloroethylene
  • Methylene Chloride

VOCs can be found both as a component of consumer products or as a byproduct of the manufacturing process for businesses. In fact, concentrations of VOCs are shown to make indoor air quality up to 10x worse. Some products with VOCs involved in the process include:

  • Paint
  • Adhesives
  • Flooring products
  • Wood composites
  • Furniture
  • Air fresheners
  • Consumer cleaning products
  • Certain cosmetics
  • Fuel
  • Dry cleaning
  • Printers/copiers
  • Wood burning

Are there industry standards for VOCs?

OSHA does have standards for the permissible exposure limit for individual chemicals, some of which are VOCs. However, the EPA does more work around preventing VOC emission indoors and outdoors.

National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Consumer and Commercial Products was started by the EPA in order to investigate VOCs. The group investigated VOCs in aerosol coatings, architectural coatings, automobile refinish coatings, and other consumer products. This states that the emissions from VOCs negatively impact the ozone layer of Earth. Manufacturers, importers, and distributors need to track how much VOC emission they are responsible for and are limited in the amount each year.

The Clean Air Act is another measure put out by the EPA. It requires state governments and businesses to maintain air quality outdoors, but argues that they cannot regulate the consumer products emissions of VOCs indoors. Some states have their own VOC requirements. They have to meet a level of stringency called Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT). This states that any company looking to do something that will increase VOCs, they need to acquire a special permit. The permits help limit pollutants in the air.

There are some industry standards, which vary depending on the business focus. Most industrial businesses require some VOCs regulation or air filtration systems to prevent the accumulation of pollutants. For example, kitchen exhaust systems can be customized with carbon modules to prevent VOC pollutants from entering the indoor air. Our AQE products help protect against the VOC and meet industry standards for filtration.

What is the problem with VOCs?

VOCs are extremely problematic, especially in regards to our health and the environment. Since they are created in the production and/or use of so many common consumer products, limiting our exposure to them is key to long-term health for ourselves and our environment. Due to the fact that VOCs can be odorless, many people are often unaware of their exposure. This makes VOCs even more dangerous. To address the dangers VOCs present to humans and the environment, the EPA and state governments have started pledging to lower the amount of VOCs they are producing or exposing workers to each year.

What are the effects of VOCs?

The personal effects of VOC exposure to humans can range from mild to severe. Short term effects include:

  • Eye/nose/throat irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches, and
  • Other body aches

Long term, you are at risk of:

  • Developing cancer
  • Asthma or worsening asthma
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage

Environmentally, VOCs cause smog, acid rain, ecosystem damage, and more.

What are the solutions to VOCs?

There are some general solutions to VOC and exposure. You should limit your exposure, store the chemicals in remote locations in your factory, control the temperature and humidity of your industrial environment, and properly dispose of unused chemicals. Other solutions for businesses to consider include only purchasing what you know you’ll use for VOC chemical compounds and ensuring that you follow manufacturer instructions around those products.

However, a much more effective way to protect against VOC exposure is by using special, proper ventilation systems labelled as low VOC emission. AQE utilizes carbon modules as add-on filters for most products, but also as stand alone filtration systems. Carbon is used because it has a very porous structure, greatly increasing the surface area. The VOCs and other dangerous gases get trapped on the surface of the filter. It’s one of the most effective ways to remove VOC from an indoor air stream.

How does AQE help businesses fight VOC emissions?

Air Quality Engineering has lots of air filtration products for mist or debris collection in industrial environments. These machines can have carbon filters added on, or used as stand alone machines. We will work to customize machines to help protect your indoor environment at your business. AQE has over 30 years of experience in protecting you from VOCs. We are always happy to help.