Air quality testing and monitoring in Australia is important for a variety of reasons. We all need air to breathe but did you know there could be toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in the air you are breathing right now which you may not even be aware of or even knew existed and at high enough concentrations can become very dangerous to your health and wellbeing? Your environment largely determines the quality of air you breathe and as such you need to be aware of the dangers of unsafe levels of Total Volatile Organic Compounds or TVOC which may be present in the air you are breathing within your environment. You can take measures to control the risks associated with breathing in poor quality air.
All employers have a duty of care to their employees to ensure that the air within the work environment ie. the building or office air is safe & clean to breathe and likewise individuals such as parents also have a responsibility to ensure that the air you and your children are breathing within your home environment is also safe & clean. Safegas offer portable and fixed detectors for your home and office to help assist in identifying the levels of TVOC which makes testing and monitoring the quality and purity of the air you breathe easy and cost effective.
Total Volatile Organic Compounds or TVOC is the total measure or sum of all volatile organic compounds found in the air you breathe. The TVOC is considered an important factor for indoor hygiene and indoor air quality. In addition to serious health concerns, there is also the psychological aspect to consider: offices, homes, and other environments that smell clean typically seem more inviting than areas with foul odors caused by organic compounds. For example a room filled with scented odors such as deodorants give the feeling of freshness & cleanliness yet the TVOC levels are higher in the scented room and therefore the air is more dangerous to breathe than an unscented room.
Likewise on the flip side, carbon dioxide or CO2 is a colourless, odorless gas we all exhale, yet if high enough concentrations of CO2 are inhaled such as at an overcrowded event or packed work place with poor ventilation for prolonged periods of time, it can cause severe adverse health effects due to the lack of adequate oxygen in the blood stream, and in extreme cases, can be fatal. Both scenarios can have high levels of TVOC which need to be monitored and preventative action taken to minimise and reduce the health risk.
Lets look at some of the most common Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that may be present in the air you breathe.
Formaldehyde (HCHO), also known as methanal, an organic compound is a colourless, flammable, pungent smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fibreboard, glues and adhesives, permanent-press fabric, paper product coatings, certain insulation materials. Other potential indoor sources of formaldehyde include cigarette smoke and the use of unwanted fuel burning appliances such as gas stoves, wood burning stoves and kerosene heaters.
Exposure occurs primarily by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapour from the air or by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin. When formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, some individuals may experience adverse effects such as watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, wheezing, nausea and skin irritation. It is extremely irritating to the mucous membranes and respiritory system and is associated with certain types of cancer in humans and other animals. Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen (cancer causing substance).
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless gas made when fuel burns. Fuels include wood, petrol, coal, natural gas or kerosene. Most carbon monoxide exposure happens in winter due to the increased use of unvented space heaters in the home. An unvented heater uses combustible fuel and indoor air for the heating process. It vents the gases it makes into the room instead of outdoors. A space heater that is not installed correctly can release CO and other toxic fumes into the room and use up much of the oxygen in the room.
Other common sources of carbon monoxide include, malfunctioning cooking appliances, tobacco smoke, clogged chimney’s, fires, vehicle exhaust emissions or idling vehicles, malfunctioning oil, gas or wood heaters etc.
Breathing in carbon monoxide fumes prevents the body from using oxygen properly which in turn can damage the brain, heart and other organs. People with health problems such as heart and lung disease are at greater risk of harm. High levels of CO is dangerous because it competes with oxygen in haemoglobin cells found in your blood. It can cause symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, seizures, chest pain, loss of hearing, blurry vision, respiratory failure, chest pain, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a odourless, tasteless, and colourless toxic gas which poses a great threat to the body’s natural defence mechanisms. Being unable to smell, taste or see it, heightens the dependence on regular monitoring of the air you breathe.
The exact symptoms of CO2 poisoning depend on the level of concentration in the air. Once CO2 is inhaled, at dangerous levels it disables the blood’s ability to move oxygen to the heart and brain. At just 2% (20,000ppm), it causes dizziness, headaches, an increased heart rate or hearing impairments. At 5%-10%, more severe symptoms include confusion, tiredness, loss of breath, and eventually unconsciousness.
Benzene is a colourless or light-yellow liquid chemical at room temperature. It’s used primarily as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries as a starting material and an intermediate in the synthesis of numerous chemicals and in gasoline.
People are exposed to benzene primarily by breathing air that contains the chemical. Mainstream cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. Benzene may also be found in glues, adhesives, cleaning products and paint strippers. Benzene has been classified as a human carcinogen and exposure to benzene increases the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders.
Toluene is a clear, colourless liquid which becomes a vapour when exposed to air at room temperature. Toluene vapour has a sharp or sweet odour which is a sign of exposure. Products that may contain toluene include paint, metal cleaners and adhesives, petrol and other fuels, varnishes, shellac, nail polish, glues, printing inks and much more.
People can be exposed to toluene by breathing it in, getting it on their skin, getting it splashed into their eyes or swallowing it. These types of exposures may make workers immediately sick or cause adverse health effects over time. High levels of toluene exposure have been found in nail salons, printing establishments, auto repair places such as panel and paint shops and construction buildings.
Without proper ventilation and safety precautions, toluene can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, dry or cracked skin, headaches, dizziness, feeling of being drunk, confusion and anxiety, shortness of breath. Symptoms worsen as exposure increases such as tiredness, slow reaction, difficulty sleeping, numbness in the hands and/or feet or potentially damaging the female reproductive system and pregnancy loss. If swallowed, toluene can cause liver and kidney damage.
If you have any questions about air quality testing and monitoring in Perth or anywhere in Australia, please feel free to contact us.
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