VOCs: main source of indoor air pollution


Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are, at room temperature, gaseous chemical molecules. They are present in many products used everyday: household products, glues, furnitures, home fragrances, cosmetics, essential oils, incenses, candles, solvents (paint, stain removers),...

The use of solvents is the main source of volatile organic compound emissions, accounting for 45% of emissions according to the french Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie (ADEME).

VOCs affect the health of occupants of homes and offices in several ways. These chemical molecules, such as benzene and formaldehyde are carcinogenic substances; others are neurotoxic substances such as tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene, dry cleaning solvents in dry cleaners) or trichloroethylene (stain remover).

In general, VOCs are irritating to the respiratory tract and promote the occurrence of asthma attacks and respiratory allergies.


Children and people with breathing difficulties, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are much more sensitive to the health effects of VOCs

The French Indoor Air Quality Observatory (OQAI) carried out a measurement campaign between 2003 and 2005 on 567 housing units. VOCs samples with passive sensors such as those used in the YOOTEST analysis kits were taken inside the dwellings (living room, kitchen, bedroom), outside and in the garage.

The volatile pollutants sought were: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, hexaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylenes, styrene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, decane, undecane, 2-butoxyethanol, 2-butoxyethyl acetate, 1-methoxy-2-propanol and 1-methoxy-2-propyl acetate.

The results of indoor air quality monitoring show that housings are polluted by multiple VOCs and that they are more concentrated indoor than in outdoor air

To better understand this invisible threat to everyone's health, YOOTEST presents the main results of the OQAI's measurement campaign concerning the volatile organic compounds most frequently found in indoor air.

These VOCs are classified into several families: aldehydes (formaldehyde and acetaldehyde), aromatic compounds, organochlorines (organic molecules that contain at least one chlorine atom) and terpenes (natural odorant molecules) contained many household products.

Formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, ketones and aldehydes

Better known as formol, formaldehyde is present in all homes because it is used for its biocidal properties as a disinfectant, as a glue in chipboard, as a fixative and as a binder in resins (DIY and maintenance products, wall coverings, floors, furniture, plastics, etc.). It is also present in tobacco smoke and formed during the combustion processes of candles and incense.

Classified as a proven human carcinogen (Group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO), it induces nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukaemias (blood cancer). In addition, the presence of this pollutant in the air promotes asthma and allergies. For these reasons, formaldehyde appears to be one of the most worrying pollutants in homes.

The measurement of formaldehyde in indoor air is the priority air quality test to be performed in the places where you spend the most time. Due to refurbishment work and often new furniture, children's rooms are often the rooms most polluted with formaldehyde.

The YOOTEST Formaldehyde Test is used to measure this priority pollutant.

Acetaldehyde is also found in all the dwellings studied. It is a substance classified as a possible human carcinogen by IARC (Group 2B). The US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) also recognizes its probable carcinogenicity to humans (group B2).

Acetaldehyde is used in the manufacture of dyes and perfumes (additive, deodorant, aroma, etc.). It is also used in cosmetics and in the food industry. Within buildings, it is emitted by building materials, decoration, furniture and many everyday products (floor cleaners, parquet flooring, laminated, glues, glazes, strippers, slabs and flocking, etc.).

Benzene and aromatic hydrocarbons

Aromatic compounds are cyclic molecules: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, styrene and trimethylbenzene, constitute a family of VOCs also present in many homes.

The best known is benzene, which is found in more than 80% of homes in France and whose concentration exceeds 2 µg/m3 (VGAI) in one out of two homes.

The IARC classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen (Group 1) and specifies that inhalation is the main route of exposure.

Compounds of the benzene family are present in hydrocarbons (gasoline, fuel oil, etc.) and are produced by the combustion of organic matter (smoking, candles and incense). A chimney or wood stove can also be an important source of benzene and aromatic compounds.

These indoor air pollutants are also emitted from DIY products, glues, paints and decorative materials. They can also be used in cleaners, solvents and cleaning products.

The Terpenes

Cleaning and care products often contain perfumes such as lemon or pine. These odors are characteristic of terpenes such as limonene and alpha-pinene. These chemicals have both biocidal and bactericidal properties. Although these VOCs are not highly toxic, they contribute to the indoor air pollution load.

The organochlorines

Last family mentioned in this review is the chlorine-containing volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene (stain remover), tetrachloroethylene (solvent used for dry cleaning) and dichlorobenzene (moth repellent). Legislations on organochlorine solvents currently severely restrict the use of these toxic substances. They are present in glues, degreasers, waxing, carpet cleaning products, for example. With regard to its carcinogenic effects, in 1995 the IARC classified trichloroethylene as a probable human carcinogen (Group 2A).

Also according to OQAI studies, more than one in two homes in France are polluted by 1,4-Dichlorobenzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, styrene, xylenes, decane (C10 hydrocarbon), undecane (C11 hydrocarbon), tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene.

Living in a polluted environment can seriously affect your health. Performing an indoor air quality test is about knowing if your environment is healthy and if it is not by knowing the exact parameters you can take the right decisions.

It is only through precise laboratory analysis that we are able to identify the types and quantities of substances present and act to reduce or eliminate these pollutants.

The YOOTEST Indoor Air Test measures all these priority pollutants that are frequently in the indoor air of homes and offices.

Formaldehyde Pollution Test

Indoor air quality diagnosis to measure the pollution of the indoor environment by formaldehyde and other aldehydes. Test with laboratory analysis. Order your Test