Saturday, February 17, 2018

Emissions From Household Volatile Organic Compounds Worse Than Feared

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One of the trickiest classes of pollutants to understand is the group known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). A VOC is any organic compound that can evaporate and enter the atmosphere. There are hundreds of different kinds of VOCs with varying ranges of health risks. The scent of healthy wine is a VOC as is the scent of unhealthy formaldehyde. The distribution of VOC's is hard to track since they are invisible and highly variable. 

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the health impacts of VOC's and some of them have become a bit more regulated. That new car smell? It turns out it is not so good for you. The same is true of the smell of paint, some cleaning products, and even some nail polish remover.

A new study published in Science is showing that VOC's are a larger component of urban air pollution than we thought. Conventional wisdom has assumed that urban VOC pollution was largely from the burning of fossil fuels. However, upon combustion, some of the complex VOC's are destroyed. As a result, the percentage of them in the VOC component of air pollution is actually lower than we thought. This result is also driven by the reduction in fossil fuel use and the improvement in pollution reduction technology in automobiles. The study shows that emissions from household VOC's now make up about half of all VOCs. This demonstrates that there needs to be a renewed focus on pollution from household products.

I am sure that there will be follow up research to try to verify the findings. Regardless, the study demonstrates that we need to be more careful with the handling and composition of our household chemicals.

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