Evidence suggests that COVID-19 lockdowns have significantly improved outdoor air quality. In the northeastern U.S., NASA registered a 30% drop in air pollution. UK researchers believe cleaner air has saved thousands of lives. In China, meanwhile, a recent study even suggests that lockdown “has saved more lives through improved air quality than were lost to COVID-19.”
Unfortunately, the opposite is true for indoor air quality. As companies that use Awair Omni have noticed, in the COVID-19 era, indoor VOC levels are spiking. Forbes report: “The coronavirus outbreak is bringing indoor air quality into the spotlight… CEOs are looking for answers on how to safely reopen offices, hospitality, recreational, education, and other facilities while giving employees, customers, and students peace of mind.”
Why are indoor VOCs currently peaking? What can employees do about it, and how/where does a VOC sensor come in?
What are VOCs and why are they harmful?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals that are commonly found in homes, offices, and other indoor spaces. Once these chemicals find their way inside, they are released or “off-gassed” into the indoor air we breathe. VOCs are generally measured as a cohesive group (Total VOCs); the Awair VOC sensor reacts to over fifty.
VOCs are found in building materials, especially paint and varnishes; and home and personal care products, such as cleaning products and cosmetics. They can also be created by certain indoor activities. Inhaling VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat; can cause breathing difficulties and nausea; and can damage the central nervous system and other organs.
Why are VOCs spiking right now?
Unfortunately, VOCs are a particular problem with indoor (as opposed to outdoor) air. The EPA reports that “concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.” And here’s the kicker: this is in normal times. In the COVID-19 era, conditions are exacerbated even further.
Worried about the virus that causes COVID-19, everyone is cleaning constantly, in an attempt to eradicate the virus from counters, doorknobs, and handles. Outside of living spaces, offices and workplaces experience thorough cleaning, as organizations are re-entering the office environment.
Cleaning products can produce temporary spikes of chloramines, a class of chemicals that are known to inflame airway membranes. Dishwashers also contribute to VOC emissions indoors – heat from their drying cycles vaporize chlorinated water into chloroform. Moreover, the combination of fumes from bleach-based mopping and gas burner ignition produces nitryl chloride (commonly found in smog).
Moreover, when it comes to redecorating, paints are one of the number one sources of VOCs. These volatile organic compounds serve an important role in solidifying paint. As it dries, types of VOC in paint evaporate and are released into the air. Currently, companies are redecorating and refurbishing their workspaces for their return to the office setting, thereby increasing VOC levels in office buildings, as well.
How do you mitigate the risks of VOCs?
As an employee, the main, most direct action you can take to reduce VOC levels indoors is to secure good ventilation. Open windows to air out indoor spaces at least once a day, or whenever you’re cleaning or redecorating.
The next step is to talk to your employers about installing a indoor air quality (IAQ) monitor with a VOC sensor in your office. Research reveals that VOCs and other factors that lower indoor air quality can affect employee productivity, increase absenteeism and, in worse cases, cause chronic health issues. Share these research data with your employers, or send them a copy of these enterprise essentials regarding IAQ. That way, you help them start investing in a cleaner, safer working environment for you and your colleagues.
Some other steps you can take to lessen volatile organic compounds sources in your offices include the following:
- Use low-VOC (paint with less than 250 grams of VOCs per liter) or no-VOC (five grams or less of VOCs per liter) paints.
- Avoid PVC-made food containers and plastic wrap. This includes household plastics like food packages and storage.
- Choose furniture and carpet padding that don’t have stain- and water-resistant coatings and are free of all fire retardants (PBDEs, TDCIPP, and others).
- Switch to green cleaning products.
How a VOC sensor can play a key role in protecting your health
Knowledge is power. A foundational step toward reducing the VOCs in your indoor air is knowing when there are VOCs in your indoor air. Unfortunately, our human senses aren’t up to the job. We need technology’s help.
A good IAQ monitor should include a VOC sensor that can alert your employers when VOCs in your office air reach problematic levels. Awair’s air quality solutions are affordable units that track the toxins and chemicals indoors. It lets you know the moment your air quality becomes unhealthy.
It is high time your employers should invest in your company’s health by securing your IAQ. Every Awair product includes a VOC sensor so that you and your employers are alerted when your VOCs are high. You can then assess the situation through an easy-to-read dashboard and mobile app, and take steps to rectify the situation.