Does EPA regulate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in household products?
EPA does regulate VOCs in some household products under the Clean Air Act (CAA); however, the regulations that we have promulgated for VOCs in architectural coatings and consumer products are in place only because many VOCs photochemically react in the atmosphere to produce ozone, a component of smog. From the standpoint of indoor air quality, the definition of VOCs and their regulation under the CAA sometimes causes confusion. The reason is that some chemicals that are toxic are exempt from the VOC regulations because they are not considered to be photochemically reactive. Therefore, some products that are labeled as "no VOC" or "low VOC" under the CAA can actually contain volatile organic chemicals that are toxic, sometimes at high levels.
In addition, the concept of lowering "total VOC" (TVOC) does not always assure safer products because the individual VOCs that make up TVOC can vary widely in their toxicity. While it is probably prudent to use products with lower VOC levels, it does not assure that the products are any better (and they may even be worse) than products with higher VOC levels.
While we do regulate VOCs in outdoor air, from an indoor air perspective, EPA has no authority to regulate household products (or any other aspect of indoor air quality). We have no authority under the CAA; our authorities in indoor air, mainly from Title IV of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), are to do research and to disseminate information to the public. Even if we had authority to regulate indoor air quality, it would be difficult to regulate household (or other) products because we have no authority to collect information on the chemical content of products in the marketplace (nor does any Federal Agency).
For more information about Volatile Organic Compounds, see:
- Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality
- Volatile Organic Comounds in Your Home - Minnesota Department of Health