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If you're interested in a healthy, green living space, you've probably heard the term volatile organic compounds, or VOCs for short. Chances are you know it's not good, but beyond that, many people are in the dark. So what exactly are these VOCs?

VOCs are chemicals that are emitted from solids and liquids. All solids and liquids that include VOCs also include a carbon chain, as any substance containing carbon is called an organic. While some carbon-containing products are relatively inert, or stable, others are highly volatile, meaning they can break down into different substances and chemicals quite easily. VOCs also have a tendency to build up in indoor spaces, so concentrations in indoor air is generally relatively high compared to outdoor spaces?as much as two to five times, according to the EPA.

There are thousands of VOCs, and they're present products like:

- Paints

- Solvents

- Aerosol sprays

- Household cleaners and disinfectants

- Moth repellants

- Air freshener

- Fuels and auto products

- Glues and adhesives

- Drycleaning chemicals

- Pesticides

- Building materials

- Furniture and carpets

- Nail polish

- Vinyl shower curtains

The EPA estimates the concentrations of indoor VOCs resulting from paint stripping can reach as high as 1,000 times background outdoor levels

VOCs and Your Health

While some VOCs have short-term health effects, others can do serious long-term damage. Some VOCs, such as benzene are known carcinogens, while others are suspected carcinogens.

In the short-term, common health issues include eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, nausea and temporary loss of coordination. The long-term health effects are downright scary. VOCs can damage your liver, kidneys and central nervous system (i.e. your brain and your spine).

Common symptoms of VOC exposure also include an allergic skin reaction, shortness of breath, vomiting, nosebleeds and fatigue.

Reduce your VOC Exposure

Choose non-toxic and low- or no-VOC products whenever possible. If you must purchase or use a product that off-gasses VOCs, be sure to use them in well-ventilated spaces, or outdoors.

If you can't avoid products containing VOCs, consider purchasing a respirator to protect your body from the chemicals.

Cara Smusiak writes on behalf of Naturally about how to live a more natural, organic and green lifestyle.

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