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TVOC Air Quality Levels Explained

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Many household cleaners, office products, and building materials release harmful compounds known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) into the air. If inhaled over time, these VOCs can cause severe health issues. Tracking VOC levels is crucial to curtailing any devastating health effects and keeping indoor quality safe to breathe.

Breathe in, breathe out. Now, try to guess if the air you just inhaled has any indoor pollutants. Most likely, it does. Unfortunately, most of the air we breathe has harmful pollutant levels. One common contributor to unsafe air is organic pollutants, also known as volatile organic compounds. 

Office workplace with laptop and smart phone on wood table

With long-term exposure, these indoor air pollutants can damage human health. So, continuous testing for VOC levels within buildings is a must, which requires calculating a metric called total volatile organic compounds, or TVOC. 

Measuring TVOC air quality levels is a core responsibility of building management. But to get accurate TVOC levels in home and office settings, it's critical to understand the source of VOCs and what tools are needed to monitor and track the indoor concentration level. Then, you can rest assured, knowing the air passing through your lungs is fit to breathe. 

TVOC (Total Volatile Organic Compounds) in Air Quality 101

Let's dive in. What are VOCs, and why are you best off keeping them out of your beloved respiratory system? The name is pretty self-descriptive: VOCs are a compound, meaning they comprise multiple elements. Mostly, these compounds are gasses, chemicals that dissolve in the air. VOCs spread through everyday products, like cleaning and construction materials. 

TVOC is how you measure total VOC pollutant levels. You'll use a TVOC sensor to calculate the collective presence of the various VOCs in a home or office setting. These sensors measure the milligrams of VOC per cubic meter, which appears as TVOC mg/m3

Below is a TVOC levels chart that distinguishes acceptable TVOC levels from unacceptable:

  • TVOC Safe Levels: .3-.5 mg/m3
  • TVOC Potentially Dangerous Levels: .5-1 mg/m3
  • TVOC Highly Dangerous Levels: 1-3 mg/m3

There is one drawback to the TVOC metric. TVOC doesn't deliver levels of individual VOCs, which is unfortunate because some are more dangerous than others. Other harmful airborne matters like carbon dioxide, ozone, or mold have individualized measurements, providing better visibility. However, if you follow the above metrics, you will still know when you need to take action. 

The Health Risks and Environmental Impact of Elevated TVOC Levels

As scientists continue researching the health concerns of indoor air pollution, the picture becomes more complicated and grim. There's a lot in the air that can cause severe disease, and exposure to VOCs is a major culprit. 

VOCs contain harmful elements like carbon, benzene, and formaldehyde. Additionally, VOCs can interact with other gasses to create even more potent compounds, such as ozone, resulting in more harmful airborne substances and additional health hazards. 

Below are some health risks associated with prolonged VOC exposure:

  • Chronic nausea and dizziness
  • Lung cancer
  • Damage to the liver, kidneys, or nervous system

VOCs can also cause short-term physical ailments, like headaches, eye and throat irritation, and loss of focus or coordination. 

Most Common Sources of TVOCs in Indoor Environments

VOCs are a significant concern because they are always present in everyday items. As such, levels can rise without proper ventilation and indoor air quality monitoring, leading to short- and long-term health effects. 

Understanding the primary VOC sources is the first step to eliminating them. Then, after identifying the source with a TVOC monitor, you can work to eradicate any VOC intrusions in your home or building.  

Building Materials

Anytime construction or maintenance occurs in your building, test for safe TVOC levels. Construction materials notoriously contain some of the most dangerous forms of VOCs. These materials include:

  • Adhesives and paints that contain methylene
  • Particle board, pressed wood, furniture, and carpeting that contain formaldehyde
  • Vinyl flooring that contains acetaldehyde or phenol

Household Products 

Another primary VOC culprit is cleaning solutions and household products. For example, bleach and certain air fresheners, shampoos, and deodorants contain harmful, cancer-causing VOCs.

Additional household products that often emit VOCs include:

  • Solvents and Cleaners
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Mothballs
  • Dry Cleaning chemicals

Office Products

Major sources of VOCs also include certain office equipment like printers, ink, photocopiers, and scanners. And don't forget the blue-collar workers, either. Industrial and warehouse settings also breed high levels of VOCs, as emissions from machinery, packaging, and industrial-grade chemicals all have high VOC emissions. 

Samsung printer with ejected paper.

How To Monitor TVOC Levels for Indoor Air Quality Management

Maintaining safe TVOC levels requires establishing a system that allows you to see the invisible. You need a TVOC sensor to detect TVOC levels and provide consistent reporting and alerts.

Once the sensor is in place, managers can monitor VOC trends to track when levels spike, such as when cleanings or maintenance occurs. Then, if levels remain above a certain threshold, they can investigate the VOC sources and eliminate them before anyone gets hurt.

How Attune IoT Can Help

We spend 90% of our time indoors, so we can't overemphasize the importance of maintaining good indoor air quality. There are many amazing solutions to continuously monitor indoor air quality by using a robust system of sensors to track TVOC at all times. 

Here's where Attune's indoor air quality solution (IAQ) comes to the rescue. Our system is one of the most impressive, fine-tuned approaches for tracking and eliminating indoor VOCs. Our hardware/software solution plugs seamlessly into existing infrastructure. Then, our highly accurate sensors gather data every second, funneling it into an easy-to-digest report where managers can scan real-time indoor air pollution levels. If something's amiss, they can act immediately to eliminate pollutant sources. 

To learn more about how Attune's IAQ solution works, visit our solution page. If you want to see our product in action, sign up here to schedule a demo. We look forward to showing you how our solution can help you on your journey to a happier, healthier life. 


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