Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

These gases are emitted from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products. Fuels are made up of organic chemicals. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.


Household products including paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.

Health Effects

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.

The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including the level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes. Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.

Formaldehyde & Tobacco Smoke Sampling


Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in making building materials and many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. It is also used to make other chemicals.

Formaldehyde is quickly broken down in the air – generally within hours. It dissolves easily in water but does not last long there, either.

When dissolved in water it is called formalin, which is commonly used as an industrial disinfectant, and as a preservative in funeral homes and medical labs. It can also be used as a preservative in some foods and in products, such as antiseptics, medicines, and cosmetics. Sometimes, although formaldehyde is not used, substances that release formaldehyde are. These have been found in cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, lotions and sunscreens, and cleaning products.

Formaldehyde can be added as a preservative to food, but it can also be produced as a result of cooking and smoking.

Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. Humans and most other living organisms make small amounts as part of normal metabolic processes.

How are people exposed to formaldehyde?

The main way people are exposed to formaldehyde is by inhaling it. The liquid form can be absorbed through the skin. People can also be exposed to small amounts by eating foods or drinking liquids containing formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is normally made in the body. Enzymes in the body break down formaldehyde into formate (formic acid), which can be further broken down into carbon dioxide. Most inhaled formaldehyde is broken down by the cells lining the mouth, nose, throat, and airways so that less than a third is absorbed into the blood.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde is normally present at low levels (less than 0.03 parts per million) in both indoor and outdoor air. Materials containing formaldehyde can release it as a gas or vapor into the air. Automobile exhaust is a major source of formaldehyde in outdoor air.

During the 1970s, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was used in many homes. But few homes are now insulated with UFFI. Homes in which UFFI was installed many years ago are not likely to have high formaldehyde levels now.

Pressed-wood products containing formaldehyde resins are often a source of formaldehyde in homes. Using unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, wood-burning stoves, and kerosene heaters can also raise formaldehyde levels indoors.

Formaldehyde is also a component of tobacco smoke and both smokers and those breathing secondhand smoke are exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde. One study found much higher levels of formaldehyde bound to DNA in the white blood cells of smokers compared to non-smokers.

Formaldehyde and other chemicals that release formaldehyde are sometimes used in low concentrations in cosmetics and other personal care products like lotions, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and some fingernail polishes. These may raise the concentration of formaldehyde in the air inside the room for a short time, but the levels reached are far below what is considered to be hazardous.

Professional keratin hair smoothing treatments can contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals. Using these can raise indoor air concentrations of formaldehyde to levels that could be a potential hazard.

Workers in industries that make formaldehyde or formaldehyde-containing products, lab technicians, some health care professionals, and funeral home employees may be exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde than the general public. Exposure occurs mainly by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapor from the air or by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin. In one large study of workers in industries that make or use formaldehyde, the average level of formaldehyde exposure was 0.45 parts per million (ppm) overall, with less than 3% of workers experiencing more than 2 ppm on average.


Please note HNST Mold Inspections checks for Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)and performs other mold testing services in the New York and New Jersey tri-state area including pre mold inspections, Ventilation System Inspections, post-remediation verification inspections, mold testing, Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI)and Ventilation system inspections.