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VOCs Explained

What are VOCs and Where Can You Find Them?


Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at room temperature. This correlates with a low boiling point, which relates to the trait known as volatility – how readily a substance vaporises. VOCs are used as solvents in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, glues and adhesives, pesticides, office supplies including printers and their ink. They can frequently be found in both industrial and office based settings. Whilst they can be very useful in day-to-day life, they also have significant health effects.


What are the Health Effects of VOCs?


The health effects associated with VOCs is often dependent on the specific VOCs present and can be categorised as either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). However, as a group they generally have some generic effects which are associated with most VOCs.


The acute health effects are:

  • Narcosis, which is the state of stupor due to the depression of the central nervous system.

  • Defatting of the skin and skin irritation.

  • Irritation of the upper respiratory system and eyes.

The chronic health effects are:

  • Dermatitis

  • Damage to organs – most VOCs target the liver and kidneys

  • Irritation of the upper respiratory system and eyes

In addition to these more generic health effects, there is also the potential for both longer-term neurotoxicity and teratogenic effects – defects or malformations in the foetus or embryo. There are also much more specific health effect effects for certain VOCs. Examples include:


  • Benzene which is a Category 1A Carcinogen, known to cause Leukaemia in humans – you can find out more about carcinogens here.

  • Isocyanates which are respiratory and skin sensitisers – more on these can be found here.

How Do You Know Which VOCs to Look For?



To determine which VOCs are present, we would typically look at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of the substances present on a clients site or likely to be produced as a result of the work process. In situations where there is uncertainty regarding which VOCs to analyse for or where are large mixture of solvents is present, it is possible to search for the top 5, 10 or even 20 most abundant VOCs present.


How To Measure VOCs


Measuring VOCs is highly dependent on what is likely to be present, how much is there and how long the process lasts to determine the sampling method and type of media required. Typically, Blue Turtle Ltd achieves this by using sorbent tubes connected to pumps at specific flow-rates to achieve the desired volume of air – this is known as active sampling. Alternatively, we can also sample using small, unobtrusive badges which don’t require a pump, instead depending on the movement of the worker – this is known as passive sampling. It is also possible to use real-time meters known as Photo-Ionisation Detectors (PIDs) which can detect and measure around 400 VOCs as well as some inorganic acidic gases. Historically, PIDs have been handheld devices used to take spot measurements but now with technology improvements, it is now possible to provide personal wearable devices capable of alarming or datalogging to be later downloaded. Whatever your situation, we are likely to have a monitoring solution to suit your needs. This will help you to protect your workers from the adverse health effects associated with the relevant chemicals and achieve compliance with the COSHH Regulations.


How we can help


At Blue Turtle Ltd, we provide a range of occupational hygiene monitoring services and can help you carry out your occupational health risk assessment. We can also help you to select the optimum control measures, better understand your local exhaust ventilation systems through LEV examination and testing services and carry out occupational exposure monitoring / personal exposure monitoring services to ensure you meet your legal obligations under the COSHH Regulations.


We help businesses of all types manage their workplace health hazards. Our experienced consultants can provide practical advice on how to achieve adequate control through process changes, improvements, or adopting/changing work practices to reduce the risk as low as reasonably practicable.


Whatever your Occupational Hygiene needs are, Blue Turtle Ltd is here to help your business protect your workforce and help you meet your legal obligations.


Give us a call today to discuss your needs or if you prefer, complete the online form with a brief outline of your business needs and/or concerns.


Blue Turtle - The missing cog in your business health!

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