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Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted into the air by-products or processes. Some harmful gases, when reacted with other gases, can cause air pollution and also cancer.

Where do volatile organic compounds come from

VOCs can be found in indoor and outdoor air. Some of these sources continue to produce VOCs during storage or transportation. Among the most well-known VOCs are benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene.

Indoor sources

 Home and personal care products:

  • Cleaners and disinfectants.
  • Furniture
  • Pesticides
  • Cosmetics and deodorants
  • Fuel oil, gasoline


  • Smoking
  • Wood Stoves
  • Printers and Copiers.

Outside sources:

  • Diesel emissions.
  • Wood burning
  • Extraction and processing of oil and gas.
  • Industrial emissions.

VOCs can be harmful to health

Breathing VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and cause shortness of breath and damage the central nervous system and other organs. Some VOCs can cause cancer. Not all VOCs have these health effects, although many have several effects.

Detailed information on the specific effects of each VOC on health is available on the Agency’s Toxic Substances and Toxic Substances Portal.

Outside, VOCs can have similar health effects, but they can also react with nitrogen oxides to produce pollution from ozone, the most common outdoor air pollutant in the country.

Protect yourself from VOCs

 Avoid or limit the use of products with a high content of volatile organic compounds.

  •  Use low VOC products, including some sources such as paints and building materials. Look for information available on the label.
  • Use a different approach that reduces the need for VOC products. For example, integrated pest management can help eliminate or significantly reduce the use of pesticides.
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using these products.
  • Do not smoke and keep all buildings smoke-free. Tobacco smoke contains VOCs among other carcinogens.·

Add ventilation when using products containing internal VOCs

  • Open windows and add a fan to draw in indoor air when using high VOC products.
  • Allow new carpets or construction products to vent the exterior releases the VOCs before installing
  • Do not store products containing VOCs indoors, even in garages connected to the building.
  • Make sure the ventilation systems in your office or school are working effectively to reduce the VOCs produced by printers or photocopiers.

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