What are VOCs and why should we avoid them?

DECO prides itself on producing VOC-free powder-coated aluminium products – but what does that mean? Many people pride themselves on supporting VOC-free products and industries – but to understand why this is so beneficial, it is important to first understand the harmful effects of VOCs both on the human immune system and the environment.

What are VOCs?

VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate and become gases at room temperature. Once released into the air, they combine with nitrogen oxide to form pollutants. Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methane and methylene chloride.

Where are VOCs found?

VOCs are emitted from a number of processes, including smoking, industrial processes, and car exhaust pipes. Even seemingly harmless products – such as cosmetics, aerosol deodorants and wet paint – can give off VOCs.


 VOCs and health

People can be exposed to VOCs either by inhaling fumes, or by the compounds coming into contact with their skin – in both cases, exposure to VOCs can cause a myriad of health issues. VOCs may initially cause a mild reaction, such as skin or eye irritation, dizziness or headaches, but prolonged exposure can result in more serious or permanent harm, such as kidney or liver damage, or damage to the immune system. Methylene chloride, a VOC often found in timber or deck stains, can metabolise into carbon monoxide in the body when absorbed, and if large quantities are inhaled, can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Volatile Organic Compounds are also carcinogenic, meaning people exposed to them regularly are at higher risk of cancers including leukemia. People with asthma, children and the elderly tend to be more susceptible to health problems caused by VOCs. 

VOCs indoors

VOCs are found in many products used indoors, in home, school and work environments—common examples being paints, varnishes, solvents, stains and even some carpets—all of which can emit VOCs while being used or even while being stored indoors. Wet paint is a common culprit, releasing formaldehyde into the air as it dries, cures and ages over time. As the concentration of many VOCs is 2-5 times higher in an enclosed space than outdoors (and in a poorly-ventilated area, up to ten times higher), they can have a significant negative impact on indoor air quality.

Poor indoor air quality in residential or work buildings can cause occupants to experience ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ – symptoms of illness that occur whenever they are inside the building and start to disappear once they spend a long period of time away from it. It is estimated that office workers take at least five days of sick leave per year due to symptoms caused by VOC exposure. Workers with even higher exposure to VOCs, such as factory workers in environments where VOCs are constantly released during production, may have even higher rates of sick days and are more likely to develop long-term health problems such as respiratory disease.

In a home environment, people who spend long periods of time indoors exposed to VOCs may experience frequent nose and throat irritation, and their existing health conditions such as asthma, eczema and hay fever, may be exacerbated.


VOCs outdoors

In addition to having causing harmful health issues, Volatile Organic Compounds can do significant damage to the environment. When VOC fumes or vapours combine with the nitrogen oxide in the air, they can form smog (a ground level ozone which can be harmful to humans and remain in the air for hours or even days after it was released) and other pollutants such as aldehydes, producing excess ozone which significantly reduces air quality, and can degrade buildings and vehicles. VOCs also produce greenhouse gases such as methane and isoprene, which linger in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and climate change. Some VOCs cause even more significant damage to the ozone layer than carbon emissions – for example, methane has a CO2e of 23, meaning it has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. 


Powder Coating: A VOC-free Alternative

Many coatings, including wet paint, release large quantities of VOCs into the atmosphere – even ‘low-VOC’ paints do still release some volatile compounds, and non-VOC paint alternatives often fall short when it comes to creating a durable and attractive finish. The varnishes and oils used to maintain and stain timber also give off VOCs, undoing the ‘green’ effects of using a timber product.

 However, powder coating provides a strong and aesthetically pleasing finish without any of the environmental damage. Because they avoid the use of harsh solvents, powder coatings release negligible to no VOCs when manufactured and applied, making them a much safer alternative both for those working with them and for the environment. Even applying powder within a powder coating booth is unlikely to pose a serious health hazard, as properly-filtered powder coating exhaust is safe to breathe in.

DECO powder coated aluminium products contain no VOCs, making them an environmentally friendly options which do not pose a serious risk to your health.

Read more:

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