Introduction to air purifiers and VOCs, Part 1

Colorado-based HVAC Contractor Alex Walter recently asked IQAir’s Air Quality News to explain what “VOCs” are and how they are identified …

It’s important to keep in mind that air pollutants can take two forms: 1) solid and liquid particles, and 2) gases.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are indoor gases emitted from solids or liquids. They are of concern to air quality specialists because many of them have serious short- and long-term adverse health effects.

In sufficient quantities, VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritations, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, memory impairment. Some are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans. Among the most dangerous VOCs in homes and commercial buildings:

  • Toluene (Methylbenzene), mostly from paint thinners. Toluene is toxic, but less so than, for example, Benzene (see below).
  • Xylene (para and/or meta), comes from printed materials, rubber and leather.
  • Benzene, a known carcinogen. Sources include tobacco smoke, stored fuels, and vehicle exhaust from attached garages.

Where do these VOCs come from? Usually from paints and paint thinners, carpeting, caulking, ceiling tiles and adhesives.

Formaldehyde is one of the few VOCs that are readily measurable.The easiest way to measure formaldehyde is with a passive formaldehyde monitor, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. After keeping the monitor in the home for the amount of time recommended by the company, you send it back to a lab for analysis.

Test kits can be ordered from various vendors. You can search for “formaldehyde test kit” on the Internet or call a company that does VOC testing.

Another option is to call an indoor air quality specialist.

VOCs such as formaldehydecanbe filtered from indoor air. But while a high-performance HEPA filter such asIQAir’s HyperHEPAfiltration system will remove nearly all of the liquid and solid particles from an indoor environment, a different filtration medium is required to stop gases. IQAir’s V5-Cell technology, for example, eliminates VOCs from the air by using granular activated carbon as well as chemically activated alumina pellets.

Tomorrow: Tips on how to minimize VOCs at home, and likely signs you may have a VOC problem.

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