IAQ UK is an independent organisation with the aim of 'raising the agenda of indoor air quality within the home and workplace'

IAQUK Resources - VOCs

Sources of Pollution

As we become more aware of our environmental obligations to protect our energy resources, and perhaps our pockets, work environments are becoming more air tight to insulate against energy loss. 


We are also using more synthetic materials and chemicals.  Therefore, such contaminates within the workplace can crescendo to an unacceptable cocktail of emissions.  Some compounds can take up to six months for vaporised chemicals to dissipate.


Research concluded that VOCs are higher in new buildings, than old; and 3 times higher in buildings built after 1982, than in buildings built before 1940.  New furniture can double emissions in the environment, whilst the accumulation of painting or decorating can triple the emission levels.


Individually the contribution from one product may not be significant; however a cumulative level can create a chemical soup of emissions to cause concerns. 


With hundreds of varied compounds present within our homes, typical health effects can include eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, migraines, nausea and the feeling of dizziness.   For those who are chemical sensitive, it can also exacerbate asthma.


2004 research concluded that mothers who used air fresheners daily suffered almost 10% more headaches than those who used them less than once a week.  And that of the mothers who used air fresheners, 16%  suffered from depression compared with 12.7 % of those mothers who hardly ever used air fresheners.


Some synthetic compounds can enter into your human tissue and stay for years causing carcinogenic activities. High concentrations of VOCs can affect your central nervous system, cause depression and/or sensitivity to certain compounds.

Open a magazine, purchase new furniture or sitting behind the wheel of a new car can create a carnal attraction.  It is not just our eyes and ears that are influenced by the marketing of products, some manufacturers infuse smells within their merchandise to entice the consumer. 


Car manufacturers have recognised this sensual secret and have been using bottled scent that encapsulates the allurement of a new car; the discerning buyer whiffing leather and mahogany, rather than plastic or PVC. 


Indeed to improve customer satisfaction with their new vehicles Rolls Royce analysed a 1965 Silver Cloud and discovered over 800 compounds that could be reproduced to create a ‘new car smell’, which has been used by other car manufacturers.


However the alluring bouquet of VOCs can, for some people, be offensive and even cause adverse effects. Manufacturers are beginning to incorporate VOC reduction within their environment strategies.


Paints contribute towards less than 1% of all man-made VOCs in the UK, however the British Coating Industry have adopted a volunteer industry agreement to display VOC labels on all decorative coatings.  The VOC labels are divided into five ‘bands’  showing minimal; low; medium; high or very high VOC content.


As our evolving awareness of our interaction with our environment becomes paramount, we must conversely understand how the environment interacts with us


Typically the toxic tyrants emanated from synthetic and/or scented materials, such as:


  • Air freshener
  • Perfumes
  • Cosmetics
  • Toiletries
  • Household cleaners
  • Laundry detergents and fabric softeners
  • Cooking
  • Clothing fabrics
  • Shoes
  • Scented candles, incense, oils
  • Floor coverings, vinyl floors, carpets
  • Paint
  • Pesticides
  • Varnish
  • Newspapers/magazines
  • Adhesives
  • Furniture
  • Dry cleaned clothing

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) is a collective term given to a variety of chemical compounds that vapourise under normal conditions entering our indoor environment.  It is considered that about 350 different types of VOCs are present in our indoor environment.


VOCs are emitted from a number of sources including processes, furnishings, equipment, substances and even people.


VOCs are a chemical compound that has a high enough vapour pressure to evaporate into the atmosphere at room temperature, potentially causing health effects within the environment. VOCs are essentially an air contaminate.  Outside they also contribute towards global warming.


Key advice for reducing the VOCs:


Be aware of the products you use and bring into your environment


  • Check manufacturers VOC emissions from their products.
  • Use more organic, nature products or low VOC products.
  • Use water based decoration coatings.
  • Limit the use of aerosols.
  • Most importantly ensure your workplace is well ventilated.


Reduce products that contain the following emissions:

  • Benzene
  • Ethylbenzene (plastics, polystyrene)
  • Xylenes (solvent in printing, rubber and leather industries)
  • Methylene chloride (solvent, paint stripper, decreaser, aresol spray propelants)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (solvent in dry cleaning, degreaser, paint stripper)
  • Formaldehyde (Preservation, disinfectants, solvents, photography processing)
  • Toluene (paint thinners,solvents)
  • Ethylene glycol (anti-freeze, often used in cars)
  • 1,3-butadiene (Nylon, tyres,synthetic rubber)
  • Nonanal (used in flavours and perfume)
  • Phenol (used in comestics, hairdye, herbicides)
  • Isopropoanol (Solvent, cleaner, usually for electriconic products)
  • Acetone (Solvent, paint thinner, nail polish remover, dry agent)