What are typical symptoms of exposure to high VOC levels?
Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, difficulty breathing, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. 7
Other effects on health include:
- Eyes, nose and throat irritation. 8
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea. 9
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system at high levels over long periods of time. 10
What are the effects of high levels of VOCs for workplaces?
High airborne chemicals in a workplace can lead to several symptoms depending on the duration of the high levels and which type of VOC they are exposed to.
Asthma symptoms and sick leave:
Indoor exposure to VOCs has been related to asthma and asthmatic symptoms such as increased bronchial responsiveness and decreased lung function. 11 Sick leave for asthmatics represents up to 30% of the total cases of sick leave linked to respiratory problems.12 This leads to costs to employees, which one study estimated to be 2.5 times higher than those for the control group ($5385 vs. $2121, respectively). 13
Controlling asthma triggers can then lead to huge savings for commercial buildings while at the same time improving occupants well-being.
Headaches and cognitive performance:
Working with a headache as a result of VOC exposure doesn’t represent the best condition for our ability to focus and perform. Researchers from the University of Toledo, Ball State University and Virginia Tech investigated the link among migraine, headache and indoor air quality. They found that when the participants worked in an environment with unhealthy indoor air, 38% reported experiencing a headache one to three days per month, and 8% reported a headache on a daily basis. 14This has been estimated to cost more than $20 billion a year in direct medical expenses and lost time on the job. 15
Monitoring air quality appears essential in order to ensure a timely action to reduce VOC concentration and related performance losses.
VOC related symptoms decrease building occupants and visitors satisfaction in a building. Indeed, one study found that satisfaction with the indoor environment is higher in green buildings. 16 On top of this, the study showed that there is a significant reduction in the risk of occupants having headaches, unusual fatigue, and skin irritations in green buildings, which are all symptoms linked to VOCs. By improving air quality it is then possible to increase satisfaction for employees, students and visitors in any workplace.
Monitoring VOC concentrations is fundamental as they fluctuate over time, and depend upon many factors. Once you are able to monitor VOC levels in your building, you can easily implement measures to reduce them, such as improving air circulation from your HVAC system, upgrading vents, and where appropriate opening windows.
1 Harvard Annual review of public https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031816-044420