What is VOC testing?

The term VOC stands for “volatile organic compounds”.  These gases are released from a wide variety of products and building materials through a process called off-gassing.  VOC’s 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 2 main ways.

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

Testing VOC’s with an on-site 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 is often used by qualified inspectors in indoor air quality inspections.  It is very important to make sure that your inspector is using the proper piece of equipment for the task at hand.  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 tVOC’s in most occupied buildings is in the parts per billion range.  Unfortunately the cost of the most sensitive meters (part per billion) creates a significant barrier to entry for many inspection firms.  At Hawk Environmental Services, we us 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 inspection for a very competitive cost.

Testing VOC’s with sorbent tubes, tedlar bags, or Summa canisters:

If there is a specific chemical that needs to be quantified, the best way to provide accurate and consistent readings is by actually capturing the air and sending 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 off-gassing of building materials, it is impossible to say what the exact health effects of high VOC levels may be.  Below is a list of some of the general symptoms that have been reported to us by clients who are suffering from high VOC levels in their building:

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