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What’s the Deal with VOCs?


The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is proposing a new rule that would lower the volatile organic compound (VOC) content in dozens of common household products.

One of these products – hairspray – has been getting a lot of media attention over the past few weeks. But in the dozens of stories about the proposed rule, which was created to help reduce air pollution and improve air quality, we have noticed the absence of health information.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists the following health effects tied to VOCs:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans

At present, not much is known about the short-term and long-term health effects of household VOC exposure. Breathing in low levels of VOCs may increase some people’s risk of health problems. Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. Common household culprits that release VOCs when used include:

  • Cosmeticsspraycan
  • Personal care products
  • Disinfectants
  • Laundry detergents
  • Air fresheners
  • Fabric softeners
  • Dryer sheets
  • Dish detergents
  • All-purpose cleaners
  • Soaps
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Lotions
  • Deodorants
  • Shampoos
  • Hair spray

DEQ’s proposed rule would limit the VOC content of these products – not prohibit them. Most manufacturers already offer lower VOC versions of their products to comply with similar rules in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Learn more from DEQ.

Our two cents: If lower VOC products will reduce both indoor and outdoor air pollution – the health effects of which are not fully known – what is the downside?

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