Volatile organic compounds are compounds that contain carbon and can quickly turn into vapors or gases. These VOCs can be released by a number of products or items in contemporary life, from burning gasoline or coal to solvents, glues, dry-cleaning products etc., and they contribute to air pollution and serious health conditions.
Organic compounds by definition contain carbon, and they are the basis of life. Volatile organic compounds are thus called because they can easily turn from solids into vapors or gases (think of glues or gasoline, more specifically of the vapors and toxic gases they can release). They can contain fluorine, bromine, sulfur, nitrogen and other elements.
Volatile organic compounds can be found in household products or items commonly used in contemporary society, from gasoline to office supplies. Some of their uses are:
Whenever the weather is hot, VOCs are more likely to be present in the air we breathe, and therefore more dangerous to human health. Not all VOC are known to be toxic, however in some cases there are clear negative effects, depending on the compound, the length and intensity of the exposure. Formaldehyde, diesel exhaust, styrene, benzene and perchloroethylene are known or suspected carcinogens, and heavy traffic, smoking and various types of workplace exposure can pose serious health risks. Known health effects include: