Welcome to Professional and Technical Services (PTS) – experts in chemical disinfection for infection prevention. Our goal is to educate and provide you the latest resources related to cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces, medical devices and hands. As specialists in disinfectant chemistries, microbiology, environmental cleaning and disinfection, facility assessments and policy and procedure creation we are dedicated to helping any person or facility who uses chemical disinfectants.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

VOCs – the smells and signs of summer

What words pop into your head when you think of summer? Ranked in no particular order, I think of: flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, sun tan lotion, smog, boating, bug repellent and beer. Aside from their association with summer, they are also all linked with emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), well except for smog which is a result of air pollution due to VOCs.

Organic compounds are chemicals that contain carbon and are found in all living things. Volatile organic compounds, often referred to as VOCs, are a large and diverse group of man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds, both solid and liquid that easily emit vapours or gases. Oddly enough, the majority of VOCs arise from plants (tomato plants emit some of the highest concentrations of VOCs). Man-made or anthropogenic emissions contribute about 10% of the biological level, but include the compounds that are regulated, especially for indoors where concentrations can be highest (up to 10 times higher than the level found outdoors).

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in commercial and consumer products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do pesticides, building materials, furnishings (thanks to our fire regulations and the much needed stain resistant chemicals we add to protect said furniture!). Fuels are also made up of organic chemicals and we all know there are more cars on the road and boats in the water during the summer. Of course many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, hobby products (who doesn’t love the smell of fruit flavoured markers and modeling glue) and last but not least air fresheners of all forms – scented candles, plug-ins, sprays and yes even those awesome reed diffusers! All of these products can release volatile organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, even when they are stored.

The health effects of VOCs can range from being highly toxic to having no known health effects depending on to the compound. The health effects will also depend on nature of the volatile organic compound, the level of exposure, and length of exposure. Long-term exposure to VOCs can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system while short-term exposure to can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment.

So where does this lead us? Why to prevention and avoidance, of course. We can prevent air pollution through the avoidance of the use of VOC laden products. As consumers we can make choices about the products we use at home. Avoid the use of products containing solvents, alcohols and fragrances (more on fragrances in a future blog). Those ambitious enough can bike or walk to work. The less ambitious could investigate car pooling. As decision makers for cleaning and disinfectants used in healthcare and educational facilities while avoidance of all VOC-containing products is unavoidable we can certainly try to limit the use of products that unnecessarily contain VOCs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers most definitely emit VOCs; however, the importance of clean hands in stopping the transmission of hospital acquired infections is far too important to cease their use. We can reduce the emissions of VOCs by wisely choosing the cleaning and disinfection chemicals which are VOC free. These are the chemicals that are used daily in every area of the facility in far larger quantities and on far more surfaces – the impact from switching to VOC-free products will markedly improve the quality of the air we breathe.

Who knows…maybe the memory impairment and the daily fatigue I was contributing to old age and chasing after a 2 year old is in fact a result of breathing in volatile organic compounds - I am fastidious in my infection control practices and do so love the smell of my Lemon Grass reed diffuser………

Lee is back next week to blog about the importance of chemical sustainability and chemical resistance development.

Bugging Off!

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