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What the VOC? Volatile Organic Compounds and why we should care about them

Posted by Anna Järvinen on May 14, 2021
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Volatile organic compounds – VOCs – are a group of carbon-based chemicals that evaporate relatively easy into the air at room temperature. Over 900 chemicals belonging to this category have already been recognized, and they are the biggest pollutants of our indoor air. Some VOCs are biogenically produced by plants, animals, microbes and fungi, but some originate from anthropogenic sources such as fossil fuels, paints and coatings, adhesives and aerosols, and technical equipment such as PCs.

The recommended amount of total VOCs in a regular indoor space is >250 μg/m3. However, this recommended value is not based on the health effects, but on the deviation of regular VOC values (higher than 90% of the measurements). Some VOCs are toxic at high levels and some are even carcinogenic, such as benzene and formaldehyde, which have been linked to causing an increased risk of leukemia and lymphoma. 

There is a multitude of symptoms VOCs can cause either by short or long-term exposure: irritation of mucous membranes, skin symptoms, headache, fatigue, nausea, memory loss, even damage to kidneys, liver, and nervous system. Long-term exposure can also lead to problems in the immune system.

Even small concentrations of VOCs can cause Sick Building Syndrome or building-related illnesses, especially when a mixture of VOCs is present. Some VOCs that are not toxic by themselves may be dangerous if they react with other compounds, such as ozone.

So, now we know what VOCs are and how they affect us. But how can we get rid of them?

Research suggests that increased ventilation and the installation of air purification systems have positive effects on indoor air quality. In addition to these, it has been shown that indoor plants reduce many VOC pollutants. However, by creating conditions for plants to optimize their air purification capability, Naava biofilters are in this regard far superior to potted houseplants. 

In chamber tests conducted by the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyväskylä, it was discovered that while utilizing only a single simulated active Naava biofilter, chemical concentrations were nearly non-existent after one hour. The chamber with the potted house plant without air circulation still had 80% of the chemicals left after 1 hour, and even after 24 hours, the plant had not removed all of the chemicals. 

The secret of Naava is the active flow of air through the Naava biofilters, making the system superior to houseplants in regular pots with no air circulation. Similar results were discovered in research conducted by VTT (the Technical Research Centre of Finland).

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The benefits of clean indoor air 

Good indoor air quality prevents many negative health effects while simultaneously boosting positive ones. A study conducted at Harvard University found that better indoor air quality led to a 61–101% increase in cognitive scores compared to people who spent their workdays in offices where VOC scores were higher. Thus, there appears to be evidence that contact with nature and the quality of the air we breathe affect our mental abilities. Additionally, high-quality indoor air is linked to fewer allergies and less overall illnesses among humans. Thus, by improving indoor air quality at work, it might be possible to significantly lower the risk of employees’ sick leave.

 

Do you want to learn more about VOCs and how our Naava’s are battling them to make our air more breathable? 

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