Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)

Automotive exhaust is a major source of VOCs.
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Image courtesy UCAR

Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are organic chemicals that easily vaporize at room temperature. They are called organic because they contain the element carbon in their molecular structures. VOCs include a very wide range of individual substances, such as hydrocarbons (like benzene and toluene), and oxygenates (which contain oxygen); they both (hydrocarbon and oxygenates) come from vehicle exhaust as well as atmospheric chemical reactions.

Fossils fuels such as gasoline and natural gas are made up of organic chemicals and their combustion is a major source of VOCs. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products including: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions. All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.

Some VOCs are quite harmful, including benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and butadiene. Benzene may increase your chances of getting leukemia. PAHs can cause cancer. Sources of butadiene include the manufacturing of synthetic rubbers, gasoline engines and cigarette smoke. Butadiene can cause cancer too.

In addition to the health problems that VOCs can cause, VOCs in the atmosphere can react with ultraviolet light and nitrogen oxides to form tropospheric ozone.


Air Pollution

Pollution Sources

Atmospheric Chemistry

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)

Car exhaust is a major source of VOCs.
Click on image for full size (52 Kb JPEG)
Image courtesy UCAR

Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are organic chemicals that form a gas at room temperature. They are called organic because they contain the element carbon.. There are many types of VOCs. Hydrocarbons have both hydrogen and carbon atoms and include benzene and toluene. Oxygenates contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and come from car exhaust and atmospheric chemical reactions.

Gasoline and natural gas are a major source of VOCs. VOCs are given off by many types of products including: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, and craft materials like glue and markers. All of these things can release VOCs while you are using them and when they are stored.

Some VOCs are quite dangerous, like benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and butadiene. Benzene may increase your chances of getting leukemia. PAHs can cause cancer. Butadiene is found in gasoline engine exhaust and cigarette smoke, and can cause cancer too.

In addition to the health problems that VOCs can cause, VOCs in the air can react with ultraviolet light and nitrogen oxides to form tropospheric ozone.


Air Pollution

Pollution Sources

Atmospheric Chemistry

Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)

Cars make a lot of VOCs.
Click on image for full size (52 Kb JPEG)
Image courtesy UCAR

Volatile Organic Compounds are also called VOCs. They contain carbon and are a gas at room temperature.. There are many types of VOCs. Hydrocarbons have both hydrogen and carbon atoms. Oxygenates contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

VOCs are in car exhaust and cigarette smoke. VOCs come from many other things, like paint, paint stripper, and cleaning supplies. Even things like craft materials such as glue and markers make VOCs.

Some VOCs are very dangerous. They can cause leukemia and other cancers. When VOCs are in the air react with ultraviolet light, and nitrogen oxides they can turn into tropospheric ozone.


Air Pollution

Pollution Sources

Atmospheric Chemistry


Page created January 30, 2006 by Dennis Ward.
The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © The Regents of the University of Michigan. All Rights Reserved. Site policies and disclaimer