TVOC and Health in Non-industrial Indoor Environments

Report from a Nordic Scientific Consensus Meeting at Långholmen in Stockholm, 1996


13Author to whom correspondence should be addressed at National Testing and Research Institute, Box 857, S-501 15 Boras, Sweden


Abstract The presence of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in indoor air has in past decades often been associated with adverse health effects such as sensory irritation, odour and the more complex set of symptoms called the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). More recently, a possible link between the increase in the prevalence of allergies throughout the industrialized areas of the world and exposure to elevated concentrations of VOCs has been suggested. In many cases, the total VOC (TVOC) is used as a measure of the concentration of air pollution and, by extension, as a measure of the health risk in non-industrial buildings. However, the TVOC concept has been questioned for a number of reasons, including the facts that it is an ambiguous concept, that individual VOCs making up the whole can be expected to give rise to different effects in people and that researchers have been using different definitions and interpretations of TVOC. This means that simple addition of the quantities of individual VOCs may not be relevant from a health point of view.

Twelve researchers from the Nordic countries have reviewed the literature on VOC/TVOC and health. A search of the literature resulted in the identification of about 1100 articles, of which 120 were selected for further examination. A final review of the articles reduced their number to 67 that contained data on both exposure and health effects.

The group concluded that indoor air pollution including VOC is most likely a cause of health effects and comfort problems in indoor environments in non-industrial buildings. However, the scientific literature is inconclusive with respect to TVOC as a risk index for health and comfort effects in buildings. Consequently, there is at present an inadequate scientific basis on which to establish limit values/guidelines for TVOC, both for air concentrations, and for emissions from building materials. The group concluded that continued research is required to establish a risk index for health and comfort effects for VOC in non-industrial buildings.