Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Facts

What are VOCs?

The term “organic compounds” covers all chemicals containing carbon and hydrogen. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as organic compounds with boiling points between 50°C and 260°C, excluding pesticides.

Are there different types of VOCs?

There are three distinct groups of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These differ based on the boiling point of each chemical; they include VVOCs (Very Volatile Organic Compounds), VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and SVOCs (Semi Volatile Organic Compounds). Some chemicals, for example, Formaldehyde & Acetaldehyde more accurately fit within the VVOC grouping, whilst chemicals including Benzene, Toluene and Xylenes fit more accurately within the VOC grouping.

Are all Volatile Organic Compounds bad?

It is quite a misnomer that all VOCs are bad. In fact many Volatile Organic Compounds are found naturally within the environment (e.g. Terpenoids). However, the important thing to note is that often different VOCs have different toxicities and this is what determines whether a specific VOC is ‘bad’.

Why are Volatile Organic Compounds Bad?

There are a range of chemicals within this grouping that are known to have significant health effects. These chemicals include the likes of Formaldehyde and Benzene to name a few. They are quite bad as they are known to cause cancer, mutations and other undesirable health effects.

In addition, it is important to note that the concentration of VOCs within an environment is quite important to their toxicity. In outdoor environments, contaminants such as VOCs can disperse and thus the concentrations are much lower relative to indoor environments.  It is quite easy for VOCs to build up within an indoor environment and become a health hazard.

Where are VOCs found?

Volatile Organic Compounds can be found in a range of places. Some are present within the natural environment, whilst others are a result of the various components used within furniture, building materials, glues, carpets, other furnishings and even cleaning products.

What are some of the symptomatic effects of VOCs?

The health effects of exposure to VOCs in the non-industrial indoor environment range from sensory irritation at low/medium levels of exposure to toxic effects at high exposure levels.  Some of the immediate symptoms can include a runny nose, irritated eyes, headaches, nausea and low concentration.

As VOCs belong to different chemical classes the severity of these effects at the same concentration level may differ by orders of magnitude. Furthermore, when many pollutants are present at low concentrations, their possible combined human health effects can be very difficult to predict, based on present toxicological knowledge.

Why test buildings materials for VOCs?

Products are normally tested in order to meet a regulatory requirement, or a specification including:

  • Green Building Council of Australia's Green Star
  • Ecospecifier's GreenTag
  • AFRDI - Australasian Furnishing Research and Development Institute
  • GECA - Good Environmental Choice Australia
  • CIAL - Carpet Institute of Australia

In addition, products are often tested to understand product performance, reduce product liability and to improve the formation in order to protect work health.  For more information about these Voluntary Product Rating Schemes.

Some VOCs can lead to negative health effects

To find out how CETEC can help you to test your product/s for VOC emissions.

To learn more about how to measure and improve your indoor air quality.


Formaldehyde is a VOC which leads to negative health effect

The chemical strucure of formaldehyde. 

Formaldehye is often used in the manufacture of building materials such as particleboard, MDF and insulation. High concentrations of formaldehyde however can lead to toxic effects as it is a known carcinogen.

Many manufacturers are now eliminating the use of formaldehyde in their products.