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EPA-Expo-Box (A Toolbox for Exposure Assessors)

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Other Organics

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a subcategory of organic compounds with a high vapor pressure at room temperature. Because VOC is a category based on a physicochemical property, individual VOCs are also classified as hydrocarbons, pesticides, or other organic compounds. Many of the compounds addressed elsewhere in this module and the Pesticides Module are VOCs, including DDT, chlordane, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and several others. VOCs can be further categorized by their degree of volatility into three subgroups:

  1. Very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs), such as butane and propane;
  2. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as acetone, toluene, benzene, tetrachloroethylene [PCE], trichloroethylene [TCE], vinyl chloride, and xylene; and
  3. Semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), such as pesticides (e.g., DDT, chlordane), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
High volatility means that air is the most important environmental media for this group of compounds, and inhalation is likely to be the exposure route of concern. Indoor environments are of particular interest because VOCs tend to off-gas from consumer products, cleaning products, and building materials like wall paint, upholstery, and flooring.

The general population may be exposed to VOCs through every-day products and materials. Certain populations may be at risk for higher exposure due to activities that result in higher VOC emissions:

  • Many household cleaning products release VOCs. People with professions as cleaners (i.e., maids, janitors) or members of the household responsible for cleaning may have higher exposure to VOCs.
  • Paints, gasoline, and pesticides can release VOCs. Additionally, many new building supplies, such as carpeting, rugs, or new furniture, can release VOCs. Construction workers, painters, and landscapers may have high occupational exposure to VOCs.

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