ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Breathe Easy: Standards Offer Protection from Volatile Organic Compounds

New York, Oct 23, 2007

/ What do freshly painted walls, cosmetics, desk chairs, and dry cleaning have in common? Each of these items can give off dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that decrease the air quality in our homes and workplaces.

Emitted as gases from both solids and liquids, VOCs are present in a wide array of products from paints and fuels to building materials and furnishings.

Two new American National Standards from the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA International) provide users with a basis for characterizing the initial release of VOCs from office furniture systems. ANSI/BIFMA M7.1-2007, Standard Test Method for Determining VOC Emissions from Office Furniture Systems, Components and Seating, and ANSI/BIFMA X7.1-2007, Standard for Formaldehyde and TVOC Emissions of Low-emitting Office Furniture Systems and Seating harmonize VOC emissions testing standards, creating benefits that will also extend into other industries.

Did You Know?

  • Indoor air has 2 to 5 times more VOCs than outdoor air.
  • During certain indoor activities such as paint stripping, VOC levels may be up to 1,000 times greater.
  • Products release VOCs while they are being used, but they also continue to emit these gases during storage. Buying products on an as-needed basis helps to decrease the amount of exposure.

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are the primary cause of sick building syndrome, where occupants experience acute health and wellness effects that are linked to their time spent inside a particular building.

A document from ANSI-accredited standards developer ASTM International provides guidance on air sampling methods, helping users to measure indoor VOC levels. ASTM D6345-98(2004)e1, Standard Guide for Selection of Methods for Active, Integrative Sampling of Volatile Organic Compounds in Air may decrease the effects of sick building syndrome by enabling the identification and mitigation of VOCs in an indoor environment.

Last year, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) announced its receipt of a grant to write an Advanced Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Design Guide for Non-Residential Buildings. [see related article] An ANSI-accredited standards developer, ASHRAE expects the design guide to improve indoor air quality performance, increase energy efficiency and decrease the environmental impact of exposure to air toxins like VOCs.

The toxicity of VOCs varies widely, from those that can cause acute reactions to those with no known health and wellness effects. Consumers are advised to take steps to reduce their exposure by following label instructions carefully, discarding old or unneeded chemicals like paints and fuels, and using all chemicals in a well-ventilated area.

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