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VOCs Lead To Air Pollution Study Says


By Greg Zimmerman Green

Facility managers well know VOCs – volatile organic compounds – can be irritating in interior spaces. When doing a painting project, for instance, a paint that off-gasses VOCs means that a newly painted space may need to be aired out before it can be re-occupied. And worse, increasing research shows that some VOCs are carcinogens.

So selecting building products – paints, coatings, cleaning products, flooring, furniture, etc. – that have low or no VOC off-gassing is a priority for FMs who want to keep their building occupants happy and healthy. That’s why LEED sets max levels for VOC emissions from products that can be brought into a sustainable, high-pefromance building. And it’s why many states have VOC laws on the books as well.

A new study published recently in Science shows that VOCs also contribute to air pollution, and their effect has been “significantly underestimated and is underrepresented in current inventories used to judge the sources of pollution,” according to this Washington Post story about the new research.

The study includes VOCs from products ranging from pesticides to printer ink, but whether a product is interior or exterior is irrelevant to its effect on pollution. VOCs from indoor products quickly migrate outside, where they interact with sunlight and other chemicals in the air, undergoing reactions that lead to air pollution, the study says.

This story on FacilitiesNet describes why it’s important to consider VOCs when selecting paint products. Many experts agree that VOCs are the one selection criterion beyond cost and performance that facility managers should consider when comparing products against one another, paint or otherwise. Doing so not only keeps a building’s occupants healthy, as this new study shows, there are definite benefits to the community as a whole, as well, in terms of reducing air pollution.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story profiling Northwestern University’s vice president of facilities management, John D’Angelo.

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