What is VOC testing?

The term VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds.” These gases are released from numerous products and building materials through a process called off-gassing.  VOCs are an often overlooked aspect of indoor air quality, and may be responsible for a wide variety of adverse heath effects. Here is a short list of some of the common chemical contaminants found in occupied buildings:

How is VOC Testing performed?

VOC testing can be performed in two main ways:

  • The use of an onsite PID meter (photo-ionizing detector) for real-time total VOC levels (tVOCs)
  • The use of sorbent tubes or air-capturing devices for lab analysis (usually GCMS) or summa canisters and regulators to target a wide variety of compounds by EPA method TO-15

Testing VOCs with an onsite PID (photo-ionizing detector)

A photo-ionizing detector uses a strong UV lamp and a specialty sensor to ionize gases in the air and report the total levels of volatile organic compounds as tVOCs. These meters can be extremely useful in creating a baseline value of the chemicals in the indoor air, and are often the tool of choice for qualified inspectors in indoor air quality inspections. Making sure that your inspector is using the proper piece of equipment for the task at hand is very important. Using a meter that only reads in parts per million for most general indoor air quality surveys is unlikely to provide useful information, as the levels of tVOCs in most occupied buildings is in the parts per billion range. Unfortunately, the cost of the most sensitive meters (parts per billion) creates a significant barrier to entry for many inspection firms. At Hawk Environmental Services, we use the highest-quality meter available (ppbrae plus) that can report total VOC levels down to one part per billion. Because we own and maintain the equipment ourselves, we can perform these types of inspections for a very competitive cost.

Testing VOCs with sorbent tubes, tedlar bags, or Summa canisters

If you need to quantify a specific chemical, the best way to provide accurate and consistent readings is to actually capture the air and send it for appropriate lab analysis. The methods for testing specific chemicals in the air are varied, and a qualified inspector can help you determine the most cost-effective and accurate sampling procedures for your specific project. Hawk Environmental Services can offer this type of testing to commercial, industrial, and residential clients in a highly focused and customized manner.

VOC Health Effects

Because the term VOC is a general category of chemicals that may be produced during the off-gassing of building materials, determining the exact health effects of high VOC levels is impossible. Below is a list of some of the general symptoms that clients who are suffering from high VOC levels have reported to us:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Itchy eyes
  • Respiratory irritation
  • Stuffy nose
  • Frequent respiratory infections