Outgassing, or off-gassing, is the process of absorbed, trapped or dissolved gasses being emitted back into the environment from manufactured products. The majority of these emissions are considered volatile organic compounds and have different origins from nitrogen oxides, which also can be harmful in large concentrations. An ideal way to keep track of airborne VOC exposure and other dangerous chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, is with a smart indoor air quality monitor. By monitoring the quality of indoor air, people can take actions to reduce the emergence of health problems.
What are the primary sources of outgassing indoors?
The primary sources of indoor outgassing come from building materials (particularly in new constructions), new furniture, and cleaning products. These harmful chemicals can emit what is referred to as “new furniture smell”, however, the lack of a smell does not indicate that there is no danger. Products that outgas can include the following:
Home cleaning products - these can include a wide range of VOCs.
Nail polish remover - many brands include the chemical acetone.
Plywood and particleboard - most wooden products in our homes are glued together with formaldehyde.
Electronic devices - many emit triphenyl phosphate when they heat up.
Air fresheners - most air fresheners emit phthalates.
Paint, adhesives, and varnishes - also can contain formaldehyde.
Carpets and vinyl flooring - can emit styrene if the product includes latex.
Photocopiers and printers - can release ozone into the atmosphere.
Cigarettes - cigarette smoke includes benzene, ethylbenzene, and styrene.
It is also worth noting that new building designs and materials have increased insulation in homes. While this is good for energy efficiency, it also means that there is less ventilation for outgassing, which can allow VOC concentrations to build up more quickly, due to confinement and the lack of air renewal. It should also be mentioned that carbon dioxide, is not a VOC.
Sick building syndrome
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, VOCs are known to be particularly adverse to those with respiratory problems, the elderly, young children, and those with chemical sensitivities. Outgassing can contribute to sick building syndrome (or “new building syndrome”). This is where occupants of a building experience mild health and/or comfort related effects that are supposedly linked to the amount of time they spend in a building.
Symptoms can be various and non-specific but tend to include some of the following: eye, nose or throat irritation, cold or flu-like symptoms, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, allergies, sensitivity to certain smells, dry or itchy skin, dry cough, hoarse voice. More serious signs can include pregnancy problems and miscarriages, cancers, pneumonia, and occupational asthma.
Developing a better understanding of VOCs and the impact they have on people can help aid our environmental protection.
Indoor air quality is vital to our respiratory health, but outdoor air pollution from ozone and particle pollution is also known to cause a number of environmental problems that can have adverse effects on our health as well.
By knowing where most VOC emission come from, people can purchase products that are less harmful to them. On top of that, they can also learn how to measure volatile organic compounds in the air to know when they are most at risk from harmful concentrations.
While many of the most dangerous VOC emissions in indoor areas originate from the manufacturing process, it should be remembered that some concentrations actually have natural sources, and exposure to them is not necessarily harmful to environmental health.