Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs]

Relevance to supported housing providers

1. One of the expectations of the Government’s Supported Housing: National Statement of Expectations (NSE) (England) is that accommodation should be free from serious hazards as assessed by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. 

2. Volatile organic compounds are one of the 29 potential hazard categories identified in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Supported housing providers should ensure that their accommodation does not expose residents to harmful volatile organic compounds. 

What are volatile organic compounds?

3. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature. This means they can easily evaporate or sublimate from their solid or liquid state into the air. They are called “volatile” because of their ability to spread into the air quickly.

Where they are found

4. Many VOCs can be found in residential properties due to the vast number of products we use in our homes.

5. They are commonly found in household products such as paints, solvents, cleaners, and disinfectants. Some VOCs can cause health problems if inhaled in high concentrations or over extended periods, while others are harmless. 

Common VOCs

6. Some of the most common VOCs found in the home include:

  1. Formaldehyde: Found in pressed wood products like particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard. Also present in certain insulations, glues, and adhesives.
  2. Benzene: Can be present in paints, glues, furniture wax, and detergents.
  3. Toluene: Often found in paints, paint thinners, adhesives, and certain cleaning products.
  4. Xylene: Used in varnishes, air fresheners, and cleaning agents.
  5. Acetone: Found in nail polish remover, furniture polish, and certain detergents.
  6. Ethylene glycol: Used in antifreeze, de-icing solutions, and some paints and solvents.
  7. Methylene chloride: Commonly used in paint strippers and adhesive removers.
  8. Butanal: Released from barbeques, burning candles, stoves, and cigarettes.
  9. Terpenes (like limonene and pinene): Common in fragrant cleaning products, air fresheners, and essential oils.
  10. Perchloroethylene (PCE or “perc”): Often used in dry cleaning processes, so clothes recently dry-cleaned can release this compound.
  11. 1,4-Dichlorobenzene: Found in mothballs and room deodorisers.
  12. Vinyl chloride: Released from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) products.

Potential for harm

7. While many products emit VOCs, not all VOCs are harmful at typical indoor concentrations. However, in high concentrations or with prolonged exposure, some VOCs can have adverse health effects.

Reducing exposure

8. Proper ventilation, using products according to manufacturer’s guidelines, and selecting low-VOC or VOC-free products can help reduce exposure in residential settings.

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