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What is VOC?

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Anybody that’s visited a home improvement store might have noticed the increased trend of no or low VOC labels on paint cans. Shoppers have probably contextualized the acronym as indicating something bad– potentially related to the increased concern for green, eco-friendly products. But what does VOC mean, and why should you, the customer, care?

VOC means Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs are noxious chemicals found in various products, from gasoline, to cosmetic products, and even common household paints. Because of their volatility, these compounds vaporize and emit gases, even long after drying. Paint, for example, emits only half of its VOCs a year after being applied.

They are a concern both as an environmental pollutant that contributes to smog, and as an indoor air pollutant. VOCs can cause headaches, dizziness, and respiratory problems. They are linked to a range of more serious health problems, as well. Benzene, for example, is a VOC that is confirmed, beyond any doubt, to cause cancer. The government regulates VOC’s use, but there is a growing market for products that are formulated to work with low to no amount of volatile organic compounds.

Additionally, these chemicals are attributed to the characteristic “new paint smell.” As a result, low and no VOC paints tend to be low odor. It should be noted, however, that no VOC does not mean odour free, nor does it mean that paint contains no potentially harmful chemicals.