VOCs refer to Volatile Organic Compounds, which are found in a huge variety of household products such as conventional paints, printing inks, cleaning products, and petroleum products among many other consumer items. When these products are used VOCs are emitted into the atmosphere, not only deteriorating the indoor air quality, but also contributing to outdoor air pollution and smog. As Australia’s population is ever increasing, the demand for consumer items is increasing too, generating huge amounts of waste and pollution. VOCs are one of the most harmful air pollutants present in many consumer products.
The risks associated with VOCs are numerous, and over the past few years their harmful health effects have been documented more frequently. The CSIRO estimates that poor indoor air quality costs the Australian people $12 billion in health related costs. The World Health Organisation (WHO) research states that painters have a much increased risk of lung and bladder cancer, caused by the VOCs in paints. The Department of Environment, Climate CHange and Water in NSW states that pain also accounts for a total of 16% of all VOC emissions, and has been linked to greenhouse gases, which is not an unimportant consideration. VOCs must be eliminated from our daily lives not only based on health concerns, but also because they cause permanent and irreparable damage to the environment.
The most immediate environmental impact of VOCs is that they play a big role in forming ground-level ozone and fine particles in the atmosphere.The accumulation of ground level ozone and fine particles along with other gaseous pollutants results in smog which reduces visibility in cities and other regional hubs. An increase in smog is also bad for the local flora and fauna as well as our health. VOCs and smog irritates our eyes, nose and throat, worsens heart and respiratory issues and causing these conditions in others. Increases in cancer have also been found, along with a deterioration of our immune systems, causing a myriad of other health problems.
The second environmental impact also has to do with ozone, but the ozone higher up in the stratosphere. VOCs react with stratospheric ozone (this is the ozone layer). VOCs are destroying the protective ozone layer which shields the earth from the harsh and dangerous ultra-violet rays emitted from the sun. The consequences for humans as a result of this are increases in skin cancer and eye damage. The most hazardous products include hair and other sprays, conventional paints (there are alternatives that do not contain VOCs), foams and plastic products.
What we can all do to limit our contribution to this serious environmental issue is to replace conventional paints with paints that contain no VOCs, avoid VOC containing cleaning agents, store VOC containing products in airtight containers, use less plastic packaging and printed materials, drive less and use public transportation, and increase the amount of trees and other plants in your local area and home. These are small, important steps.