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VOC’s in the Built Environment


Whether you’re a manufacturer, distributor, or installer of building products such as caulks and sealants, you’ve no doubt heard of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). But, you may be unaware of what, exactly, they are and why such an emphasis is placed on limiting their presence within the built environment.

Volatile Organic Compounds are organic chemicals that evaporate into the atmosphere at room temperature. They are labeled as “volatile” because they have a low boiling point and a high vapor pressure, causing them to evaporate quickly at room temperature and turn into gases or vapors. They occur both naturally and through human activities. In nature, they form from plants, forest fires, organic decomposition, animal respiration, etc. Volatile organic compounds created by human activities occur from manufactured chemicals and products, many of which are commonly used throughout the built environment.

Building Materials
Home & Personal Care Products
Paint, Varnishes, Paint strippers
Air fresheners
Caulks and sealants
Cleaning Products
Dry cleaning
Carpet, Vinyl flooring
Composite wood products
Moth repellents
Burning wood
Upholstery and foam
Fuel oil, gasoline
Cooking and other hobby supplies

In terms of pollution, we often think the air outside is worse than the air inside, and it’s not hard to see why. We see pictures of countries where people have to wear masks due to poor air quality. When we look at our own cities, we see the hazy smog, the smoke emitting into the air out of the smokestacks, and we can smell the exhaust from vehicles.

However, this is a misconception as the air inside can have up to five times more VOCs than the air outside, as homes and offices are enclosed spaces, allowing pollutants and VOCs to accumulate over time. Though some VOCs come from outside via car exhaust, building exhaust-kitchen and bathroom, etc., most pollution comes from sources already inside, such as adhesives, caulks, sealants, carpeting, manufactured wood products, and more

Knowing what volatile organic compounds are is only part of the picture. It is essential that we understand the impact VOCs have on our health and the environment and why there is such emphasis on limiting VOCs within buildings, construction, etc.


Factors such as the amount of VOCs in the air, length of exposure, pre-existing health conditions, etc., all play a role in how VOCs can affect our health. Those who are most susceptible to adverse effects are children, the elderly, active people, and people with pre-existing conditions. Animals can even be affected by VOCs, which can lead to many health conditions, even cancer. The severity of the symptoms depends on whether the exposure to VOCs was short-term, meaning hours to days, or long-term, meaning years to a lifetime. Short-term exposure can cause an array of symptoms such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, and worsening of asthma symptoms.
Diagram detailing the impacts of Volatice Organic Compounds on the Human Body
Buildings can accumulate high concentrations of VOCs, which can lead to a phenomenon known as sick building syndrome. The high concentration of VOCs within these buildings can make individuals experience discomfort and acute health effects, such as headaches, itchy skin, sensitivity to odors, dizziness, nausea, dry cough, and more while in the building. When the individual leaves, however, their symptoms subside. Long-term exposure can cause more critical health concerns, such as cancer, extensive irritation to the eye, nose, and throat, chronic fatigue, loss of coordination, memory loss, damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.

If you are experiencing any symptoms, make sure you ventilate the area and, if possible, remove yourself from the space. If symptoms persist or become worse, seek medical attention.


It’s essential to know the impacts chemical products have on our health and the environment, but that’s only part of the picture. It is our responsibility as those involved in creating and maintaining the built environment to ensure that collectively we make, distribute, and install products that are safe for us and the world in which we live. VOCs impact your health indirectly through their adverse effects on the environment. Volatile organic compounds are a pollutant and contribute to the development of ground-level ozone, also known as bad ozone or tropospheric ozone. The ground-level ozone impact our health by exacerbating asthma and other lung conditions, such as bronchitis, and irritating the eyes, nose, and throat. At high concentrations, the ground-level ozone can cause premature death in children and individuals suffering from heart and lung disease. Beyond just our health, VOCs negatively affect the environment. The ground-level ozone reduces plant growth, leaving them vulnerable to pests and diseases. Ground-level ozone affects sensitive vegetation’s and ecosystems including, forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness area, which causes loss of species diversity-less variety of plants, animals, insects, and fish. It can also cause changes to the specific assortment of plants present in the forest, changes in habitat quality, and changes to the water and nutrient cycles.

Diagram of Benzene Ring (Volatile Organic Compound)

Benzene is a colorless or light-yellow flammable liquid chemical with a sweet odor. It’s a natural component of crude oil and gasoline – benzene’s sweet smell is partially responsible for the aroma around gas stations. Typically, benzene is used as an intermediate to make other chemicals, as benzene derivatives see widespread use in a wide array of chemicals and other products. These include, but aren’t limited to, adhesives, coatings, furniture wax, paints, and more.

Exposure to benzene lead to drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, headaches, confusion, unconsciousness, or even death.

Benzene’s structure is a basic component in many organic compounds and is represented in diagram form by a ringed structure known as the Benzene Ring. In it, each carbon atom is also bonded to a hydrogen atom. The Benzene Ring serves as the fundamental structure on which many other volatile organic compounds are built and includes such derivatives as toluene and xylene isomers.

Xylene is any one or a combination of isomers of dimethylbenzene: meta-xylene (m-xylene), ortho-xylene (o-xylene), or para-xylene (p-xylene). All of these isomers are colorless, flammable liquids that have a slightly sweet smell. Xylenes are produced naturally in petroleum, coal, wood tar, and a small amount is produced during forest fires. They are primarily used as solvents in cleaning agents, paint thinners, varnishes, as well as a component in ink, rubber, and adhesives. Exposure to xylenes can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, confusion, slurred speech. Exposure to high levels of xylenes can cause a loss of consciousness and even death.

Diagram of Xylene Isomers: m-xylene (meta-xylene), o-xylene (ortho-xylene), p-xylene (para-xylene) Volatile Organic Compounds

Diagram of Toluene Volatile Organic Compound

Toluene, also known as methylbenzene, phenylmethane, or toluol, is a flammable, clear and colorless chemical liquid with a sweet odor. Toluene is a natural component in crude oil and is used extensively in the manufacturing of benzene derivatives, caprolactam, saccharin, medicines, dyes, perfumes, TNT, polyurethane resins, and detergents. Exposure to Toluene can cause eye and nose irritation, tiredness, confusion, dizziness, headache, dilated pupils, anxiety, nerve damage, insomnia, liver and kidney damage, and more.

Diagram of Trichloroethylene Volatile Organic Compound

Trichloroethylene is a flammable liquid that is colorless and clear with a chloroform-like odor. Trichloroethylene is used in many industries for a variety of purposes, such as being used as an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers, and spot removers. It is also used as a solvent to remove grease from metal parts. Exposure to Trichloroethylene may cause eye and skin irritation, in high concentrations it can cause dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, confusion, nausea, unconsciousness, liver damage, death, and more

Diagram of Methylene Chrloride Volatile Organic Compound

Methylene Chloride, also known as dichloromethane and methylene dichloride. It is a clear, colorless, and non-flammable liquid with a sweet odor. Methylene Chloride is in various industrial processes and industries, such as paint stripping, pharmaceutical manufacturing, paint remover manufacturing, and metal cleaning and de-greasing. Exposure to methylene chloride can cause death, cancer, skin irritation, eye irritation, and more.

Diagram of Formaldehyde Volatile Organic Compound

Formaldehyde is a colorless liquid chemical with a pungent odor. Formaldehyde occurs naturally in the environment. Humans and other living organisms make small amounts of Formaldehyde as part of metabolic processes. Formaldehyde is a fundamental building block chemical. As a result, it is in a variety of products and materials, such as glues, adhesives, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings, and certain insulation materials. Exposure to high levels of Formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation.

To preserve the health of our communities, co-workers, families, the environment, and ourselves, steps must be taken to lower VOC concentrations in our homes and other building structures. With this goal in mind, organizations have formed to create uniform standards regarding limiting the use of VOCs. Beyond that, there are steps we as individuals can take to do our part. These efforts may seem small, but together, they can create a healthy and green future.


Greenguard Environmental Institute is an industry-dependent organization that aims to protect human health and improve quality of life by enhancing indoor air quality and reducing exposure to chemicals and other pollutants. Products that have achieved GREENGUARD certification are scientifically proven to meet some of the world’s most rigorous third-party chemical emissions standards, helping to reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure.


The U.S. Green Building Council created LEED to define and gauge what the term green building meant, and provide a guide for developing sustainable buildings. LEED is a program for green buildings and communities worldwide. It is globally recognized and widely used rating system and a symbol of sustainable achievement and leadership. Certifications from LEED provide independent verification of a building or a neighborhood’s green features, permitting the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, and cost-effective buildings.


To get a LEED certification, businesses choose a project from a variety of categories. These projects earn points across nine basic areas which address key aspects of green buildings; these include integrative, location and transportation, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environment quality, innovation, and regional priority. By using compliant products throughout the project’s construction, the building/project accumulates points. Based on the number of points achieved, a project can earn one of four LEED rating levels: certified, silver, gold, or platinum. At Everkem, we have several LEED v4 compliant products, which can be used to acquire points for LEED ratings.


After learning what VOCs are, their adverse effects on both us and the environment, and the steps that are taken to limit them in the built environment throughout construction, you may wonder what steps you can take on your own to reduce VOC concentrations in your home or workplace.

In sealants, caulks, and adhesive products, VOCs are used as solvents or thinners. As part of the curing process of these process of these products, VOCs evaporate and disperse into the surrounding atmosphere, often times giving off various odors. This is known as off-gassing. When VOCs evaporate, they can remain in the air long after use and even after the odor has dissipated. When you are applying these products, make sure the area is well-ventilated. Some products may require the use of a respirator or other face coverings. Using low VOC products is an effective, easy way to lower VOCs in the air. Everkem, offers a wide array of products that are low in VOCs. These products carry a unique mark, our Eco Seal stamp, for easy identification. The Eco Seal stamp shown below specifies which products are Eco-Safe and qualify as a low VOC content sealant or adhesive, which meet one or more of the following guidelines:

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Green Building Rating System

National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) model GREEN Home Building

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

Ozone Transport Commission (OTC)

California Air Resources Board (CARB)

Everkem Diversified Products' EcoSeal Stamp signifying eco-safe, Low Volatile Organic Compund (VOC) products.


Ventilating is a crucial step in lowering the concentration of VOCs in your home or place of business. Ventilate by opening doors, windows, or by using a fan. Changing out air filters will also help in ventilating the air more efficiently. VOCs can stay in the air long after product use and even after the odor fades. For this reason, it’s best to remove unused or old chemical products from your home or place of work. If able, put your chemical products in an area where people do not spend large amounts of time, like a garage or shed. Another measure to take is to avoid using grills, lamps, or stoves that require propane or other fuel inside the home. If you do use these devices, make sure the area is well-ventilated. If possible, invest in an air quality monitor. These monitors measure VOC concentrations and detect problems before they become hazardous for you or your family’s health. Finally, look into low VOC product options. Many companies will place an identifying marking, like our Eco Seal stamp, on products to indicate they meet low VOC requirements. You can also look for products with third-party certifications such as GreenGuard, or LEED compliance. Using low VOC products is an easy and effective way to limit your exposure to volatile organic compounds.


As previously mentioned, LEED v4 compliant products are an efficient way to lower VOCs in the air. In LEED v4, the VOC compliance guideline remains, along with additional certification that is required. LEED v4 mandates that emissions testing be performed by a third-party laboratory, to ensure the product is compliant with the California Department of Public Health’s “Standard Method for the Testing and Evaluation of Volatile Organic Chemical Emissions from Indoor Sources using Environmental Chambers.” For more information on LEEDv4, check out our LEEDv4 compliance announcements for our Trusil 100 product or our Firestop-814+ and Sound Seal 90 products. Contact us to learn more about our LEED v4 products and Low VOC products. You can also give us a call at 1-800-638-3160 for more information.


With that in mind, one can see why such emphasis is placed on limiting them within the built environment. Whether you’re a specifier, manufacturer, distributor, or installer you can make a significant impact by spreading awareness/information, choosing low VOC products whenever possible, and embracing innovative, eco-safe construction practices and products.

If you’d like to know more about Volatile Organic Compounds, or Everkem’s low VOC products – several of which meet LEED v4 emissions criteria – contact us today.