The Chemicals Detected by Awair and Glow

What Chemicals do Awair and Glow measure?

Awair measures and reports the presence of Volatile Organic Compounds, otherwise known as VOCs. VOCs are a diverse group of common chemicals that are often found in the air in our homes and offices. They are both naturally occurring and human-made. Unlike other chemicals in the air, VOCs are generally measured, considered and treated as a cohesive group with a cumulative effect on health and comfort.

How do VOCs impact my health and comfort?

According to the EPA, “Studies from the United States and Europe show that persons in industrialized nations spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors. For infants, the elderly, persons with chronic diseases, and most urban residents of any age, the proportion is probably higher. In addition, the concentrations of many pollutants indoors exceed those outdoors.”  Because VOCs are such a common and prevalent indoor pollutant, exposure to them can have a variety of impacts on health and comfort. VOCs can contribute to a host of symptoms including headache, fatigue, eczema, and even cancer.

Exposure to moderate levels of VOCs can trigger allergies and asthma. They can cause nasal congestion, cough, wheezing, and pharyngtis (inflammation and soreness of the throat). Aside from respiratory symptoms, VOCs can cause headaches, dizziness, conjunctival irritation (irritation of the membrane covering the eyes and inside of the eyelids), allergic skin reactions, and fatigue.

Higher levels of VOCs can include irritation of eyes and nasal passages, nausea and headaches, lethargy and malaise, rash, skin irritation, and eczema.

Long term VOC exposure effects also contribute to overworking the liver and kidneys and has been linked to cognitive impairment, personality changes, and  cancer.

Why are VOCs measured as a group instead of individually?

There are several different reasons that VOCs are treated as a group instead of individually.

  • The EPA’s Technical Assistance Document for Sampling and Analysis of Ozone Precursors lists more than 90 target VOCs that have potentially negative health effects while their Substance Registry Service lists over 230 VOCs.
  • VOCs tend to co-occur, meaning that if some of the VOCs in the above list are present, others coming from the same sources are likely present as well. Ventilation or removal of the source will generally be equally effective for most or all VOCs present.
  • VOCs have a cumulative effect on health and comfort. For example, numerous VOCs are asphyxiants. Asphyxiants displace oxygen in the blood. If a person breaths in multiple asphyxiants, each one is working to displace oxygen in that person’s blood and the effects that the chemicals have on that person are compounded.

Since VOCs occur as a group and can often be treated as a group, measuring and reporting each chemical individually is impractical. Measuring and dealing with them as a group is simpler and far more effective.

For more information on VOCs, please check out our helpful article: VOCs: What Causes Them and How to Deal with Them

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