Volatile Organic Compound Testing: An Overview

Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are a group of chemicals that evaporate easily in either liquid or solid form when at room temperature. Occurring both as natural compounds or as man-made compounds, VOCs can be found in many common household and industrial products.

Some common examples of VOCs include methane and acetone and may be found in personal care products, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, adhesives, paints, and more. 

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Labs conducting volatile organic compound testing (also known as 8260 labs) typically work with soil, water, chemical, and product samples to determine chemical levels and concentrations. Because VOCs easily evaporate into the air, special precautions must be taken to ensure testing procedures are done safely and accurately.

Loss of VOCs through evaporation clean to inaccurate results, and possible personnel exposure to airborne toxins and irritants. 

As a full-service laboratory design and construction firm, we design, build, and install custom lab furniture to help our clients create safe, efficient, and comfortable working lab environments. Included in our range of lab furniture offerings, we can provide specialized casework, tables, and workbenches designed to house and store special equipment and tools. For labs handling VOCs, we design around existing ventilation systems and install quality tools to help protect staff and the surrounding environment from airborne pollutants. 

About Volatile Organic Compounds

Federal VOC limits are regulated by the U.S. EPA, dictating legal requirements such as VOC concentration, labeling, and exemptions. Despite federal oversight, the states also have their own individual regulations regarding VOCs and consumer products. Often stricter than federal guidelines, state VOC policies are often designed with the protection of local air quality in mind, since evaporated VOCs mix with nitrogen oxides and form pollution commonly known as smog. 

The instability of volatile organic compounds is what makes them so difficult to work with. If not handled properly and stored in the right environments, samples can easily begin to lose VOCs as they evaporate into the air, reducing the accuracy of results and necessitating special equipment and handling procedures.

Often measured in samples of household products, soil, water, or air, volatile organic compounds include: 

  • Formaldehyde 
  • Acetone
  • Ethanol
  • Isopropyl Alcohol

Possible Health Risks

Research on volatile organic compounds has primarily focused on their impact on human and animal health. Smog and air pollution impact millions of people living in cities and urban environments worldwide and have been shown to have an effect on human health.

For researchers working in facilities handling samples containing VOCs, there are also a number of health risks. Since VOCs evaporate and are absorbed into the air at room temperature, samples containing VOCs must be properly stored and handled in proper laboratory casework to prevent vapors from overrunning the laboratory environment. 

Risks associated with short term exposure to volatile organic compounds include: 

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation/inflammation
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Respiratory irritation and worsening of asthma symptoms

Risks associated with long term exposure to volatile organic compounds include: 

  • Liver, kidney, and general organ damage
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Certain cancers

Special Equipment and Safe Handling

There are a number of methods used for the safe handling of samples containing high concentrations of VOCs, including the use of special equipment like mass spectrometers. Mass spectrometers let volatile organic compounds do what they do best by encouraging vaporization. Combining pressure and heat, mass spec procedures “smash” vaporized compounds to separate their chemical components to be measured and weighed.

With this method, the risk of losing VOCs is virtually eliminated, and testing can be conducted accurately and without risk of personnel exposure. 

Special equipment like mass spectrometers require safe housing and storage options, often needing dedicated work surfaces for the best and most accurate results. At OnePointe Solutions, we design and build custom instrument benches and lab carts to meet your exact specifications.

We can create custom dedicated housing for your mass spectrometers and other special equipment, perfect for ensuring expensive and sensitive equipment is safely stored away from possible spills, bumps, and crowding. 

To further reduce the presence of toxic fumes and airborne pollutants, some VOC labs may utilize fume hoods during procedures that may result in mist, droplets, or aerosols. OnePointe Solutions offers a variety of fume hood options, including biosafety hoods, general chemistry hoods, ductless hoods, ventilated mass spec enclosures, fume snorkels, and more. 

To safely manage and direct the flow of VOC contaminated air, all VOC labs should be equipped with specialized ventilation systems with high-powered filtration. A quality filtration system will successfully trap airborne pollutants on their way out of the laboratory environment, removing them from the air before recirculating throughout the rest of the facility.

For labs located within a larger facility, proper ventilation will prevent other personnel from accidentally being exposed to harmful VOCs. Labs housed in their own free-standing building will require proper filtration to remove pollutants from the facility’s air supply and prevent the release of VOCs into the surrounding environment.

Are You Planning a VOC Lab?

The lab design team at OnePointe Solutions can help you build or renovate your volatile organic compound lab.

To get a free consultation and on-site visit with our reps, call (866) 612-7312, fill out a contact form, or chat with us online.

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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