Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), what are they? Often found in man-made chemicals that are utilized and produced in the manufacturing of paints, pharmaceutical, and refrigerants, VOCs are characterized as compounds with high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Besides being a critical element of petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry cleaning agents, VOCs can be found in gas form when emitted from everyday household products such as cleaning supplies, pesticides as well as common office supplies such as copiers, printers, correction fluid, and permanent markers. By using these products, you as well as others around you will be exposed to the toxin.
Due to various human negligence, VOCs have become common groundwater contaminants. Seeping into the ground due to spillages or inappropriate disposals, the chemicals dissolve in the water when they are transported deeper into the water source in the form on non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL). Like many other pollutants, the federal government has set legal limits for 21 various VOCs that can potentially be found in our water supply. There have been no changes to these rules since 1992, however. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about 20 percent of the country’s water supplies are contaminated by VOCs. A study conducted by the US Geological Survey examined various groundwater and drinking water wells to discover that the pollutant was found in 90 of the 98 samples acquired. Based on the results, VOCs can be commonly found in California, Nevada, Florida, and the New England and mid-Atlantic states. However, federal limits for VOCs may be set higher than what many public health agencies believe to be safe for humans.
Here are some of the possible health effects that VOCs can cause:
Short term exposure
- Irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract
- Visual disorders
- Memory problems
Long term exposure
- Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- Loss of coordination
- Damage to the liver, kidney, central nervous system
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United States Environmental Protection Agency, “What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?” https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-are-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs
US National Library of Medicine, “What are volatile organic compounds (VOCs)?” https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/volatile-organic-compounds-vocs
Drinking-water, “Drinking Water Contaminant – Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs),” 2019, Extension, https://drinking-water.extension.org/drinking-water-contaminant-volatile-organic-compounds-vocs/
Environmental Working Group, “Cancer-causing Volatile Organic Compounds,” 2019, https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-vocs.php