VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOC’S) Part 2

The VOC Primer by gene sperling, pharmacist

  • The Example of Diesel (a classic VOC joined with particulates)
  • When Should I Worry?
  • Should I test? What Should be Tested First?
  • How Much Does Testing Cost?
  • What are My Alternatives If VOC’s are an Issue?

In virtually all cases of VOC exposure, the problems are intensified when VOC’s mix with other VOC’s or certain particulates. In the case of diesel VOC’s we can view an example of numerous possibilities. The scenario goes something like this:

The Example of Diesel (a classic VOC joined with particulates)

In virtually all cases of VOC exposure, the problems are intensified when VOC’s mix with other VOC’s or certain particulates. In the case of diesel VOC’s we can view an example of numerous possibilities. The scenario goes something like this:

  • Diesel becomes referred to as Diesel particulate matter (DPM), or diesel exhaust particles (DEP). In either case this VOC has a also contains a number of particulate components to the exhaust. A few we know as diesel soot along with aerosols containing ash particulates, metallic abrasion particles, sulfates, and silicates. These are all released into the atmosphere and travel through the air as heavy particulates. These particles may exist alone or be joined with others to form chains of chemicals that are invisible to the naked eye. They are comprised of both fine and ultra-fine particles that generally range from PM 0.1-2.5 microns. These particle sizes are smaller than many bacteria or molds and their ability to travel is increased by their numbers and the prevalent air currents out of doors.
  • The small size of diesel particulates and gases allow penetration into the deepest portions of lung tissue, where they are allowed to bind with other very small gases and toxins that allow them better transport and creates more damage.
  • The soot and ash particulates coat and irritate the lung tissue causing a slow release of irritating chemicals. The sulfates are known contributors to asthma, copd and emphysema. The silicates serve to enhance chemical bonding to form structures with other chemicals and then contribute to toxicity by being poorly soluble in the moist environment of the lungs.
  • The metallic abrasion particles, also very minute, contain rough edges that can scar and irritate the delicate linings of the lungs. They act almost as effectively as minute razors.
  • Research indicates that if you live within ½ mile of a major, highly traveled freeway, that diesel and its particulates will more than double your chances of developing a directly related lung disorder. If you live within a mile of a major freeway interchange or shipping route the odds of respiratory problems increase even more.

From this example of diesel, we can see how complex it becomes when a Volatile Compound becomes joined to solid particulates and finds its way through the environment.

When Should I Worry?

VOC’s have become as much a part of our daily lives as breathing–literally. We are constantly exposed to one or a mixture of VOC’s. Many of these have known toxicity’s. Most are currently unregulated, under-regulated, and untested. When exposed in combination with other VOC’s and the chemical solvents that they become a part of there is almost no research at all.

Carpet glue, particle board, laminate flooring, paint, exhaust, pesticides, herbicides, fabric softeners, room fresheners, detergents, fuels, household cleaning abrasives, polishes, paints,.…..There is no escaping exposure. The key is to minimize exposure levels and times, and to not allow toxic levels indoors. Proper and adequate ventilation is the key to removal and dissipation. In many of today’s modern sealed buildings this can be a major issue and also the easiest remedy when addressed properly.

If you feel that the exposure may be coming from within your home or office, a competent testing agency (like Breathe-Rite) can advise you on the most direct method of discovery.

If you suspect that you may have exposure to external or unknown VOC’s that may be causing a health issue and you do not have physical, tangible evidence of specifics it is easiest to ‘rule out’ the influence of more common suspects. Sampling tests are available to identify chemical families of VOC’s so that further testing will not be wasted.


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