What are ‘Volatile organic compounds’?

The Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are lighter than air at room temperature. They are used as paint thinners. Also they are used in perfumes. They are naturally found in petroleum products. They are also produced by plants, animals and micro organisms. Frequent exposure to volatile organic compounds leads to cancer and respiratory irritation.

Physical Characteristics

  • The water solubility of volatile organic compounds are very low.
  • They are highly unstable at room temperature.

Role of VOC in the atmosphere

90% of the VOC in the atmosphere is produced by the plants. The VOCs play a major role in chemical processes that occur in the atmosphere. The VOCs keep the atmosphere above it clean. Also, they react with harmful pollutants and neutralise their effects on the environment. VOCs are highly important for animal – plant communication.

VOC in homes

The concentration of VOCs in homes is five times higher than its atmospheric concentration. Also, the VOCs can remain in homes for longer duration of time. Inhaling VOCs for longer duration leads to cancer.


Benzene is most harmful of all the VOCs. It is called a carcinogen. It is commonly found in fuels, cigarette smoke, cars, paints.


It is used for dry cleaning. It is also a VOC. The dry cleaned clothes carry these VOCs.

Impact of VOC on human health

Irritation in eye, nose and throat, Headaches, asthma like symptoms, dizziness. Also, it leads to high levels of cancer, kidney damage and liver.


The world countries including USA, UK have not set any standards for the industrial limits of VOC. Increase home ventilation to reduce the exposure to VOCs.

VOC in India

India sees no difference between VOC and other air pollutants.


China defines VOC as those compounds that are emitted from industrial pollution, automobiles, burning fuels, transportation, coating of furniture, etc.

United States

They are named as hazardous materials.

European Union

It defines VOC as those organic compounds whose boiling point is less than or equal to 250 degrees Celsius.




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