Commercial VOC Testing and Mitigation Services in Milwaukee
If you run a business in the greater Milwaukee area, you probably already have at least a passing acquaintance with the term “VOC” (short for “volatile organic compound.”) Even if you aren’t engaged in a painting or printing business—or anything else that produces toxic fumes—it’s still possible to have a workplace with terrible indoor air quality just from vapors released by furnishings and flooring.
Poor indoor air quality isn’t simply a matter of a bad smell. The real concern is the harm caused by repeatedly inhaling toxic vapors. Often, the smells inside an office building don’t seem bad at all. You might even dismiss a cloying smell as “that new carpet smell.” Unfortunately, though, most VOCs cannot be detected by smell. Without testing the indoor air quality of your building, there’s no way of knowing one way or the other if the air is potentially harmful or not.
If testing reveals harmful concentrations of VOCs, the next obvious step is VOC mitigation. Similar to radon mitigation, a VOC mitigation system uses sub-slab depressurization to direct soil gases out of the house. Another key component of VOC mitigation involves assessing the HVAC system and making any necessary changes to ensure adequate ventilation of the building and proper exhausting of air.
Frequently Asked Questions About VOCs and VOC Mitigation
What are VOCs?
VOC is an acronym for Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs are common chemical contaminants released into the air in both residential and commercial buildings. These chemicals typically leave odors. They are about 10 times more concentrated indoors than outdoors and include toxic compounds such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, xylene and perchloroethylene.
While it is easy to understand how businesses like auto paint shops and factories would have an issue with VOCs, even office buildings can have poor air quality due to VOCs. The effects of breathing them day in and day out ranges from mild irritation of the eyes and throat to headaches, nausea, nervous system damage and cancer. There are many furnishings and products used in offices which release VOCs, including:
- Cleaning fluids
- Fabrics in carpeting, drapes and furnishings
- Vinyl floors
- Emissions from office equipment
- Wall coverings
- Air fresheners
- Caulking, coatings and paint
- Perfumes, deodorants, shampoos and other personal products on employees
Just like radon can accumulate in a home, so can VOCs—particularly in buildings with poor ventilation. In a house, it’s easy enough to open windows on a nice day to clear the air. Most office buildings, though, have windows that cannot be opened. If the HVAC system is inadequate for the size of the building, or is not working properly, VOCs can accumulate to dangerous levels.
What does the EPA have to say about VOC levels?
According to the EPA, as many as 50 to 300 different VOCs are present in the air of homes, schools and offices. These compounds are measured in parts per million (PPM). The concentration of these compounds and their effects are outlined below:
< 1 PPM “Green” No significant ill effects on health of occupants
1 to < 10 PPM Likely to produce some complaints and ill health effects among occupants
10 PPM and greater May lead to more adverse effects on health.
Are There Any Laws on VOC Levels In Businesses?
Because VOCs form ozone (smog) through reacting with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight, there has been an increased focus from regulatory agencies on reducing VOC emissions--not only in Wisconsin, but all across the country.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the US Environmental Protection Agency both have restrictions on the amount of VOCs allowed in businesses. For the most part, these regulations are most applicable to industrial operations which use or produce toxic materials.
Although office buildings produce far less VOCs than industrial operations, even nice looking offices can harbor unhealthy VOC levels. New office buildings tend to have the highest VOC levels due to all the new materials releasing chemicals into the air. This generally lasts about 6 months and is referred to as “chemical outgassing.” Employees who are particularly sensitive to these toxic compounds may complain of headaches and irritation of the eyes, nose or throat. Such complaints are typical of “sick building syndrome,, which is also known as “tight building syndrome” in reference to a building’s lack of fresh air flow.
Obviously, reducing VOC levels benefits everyone. Aside from helping to reduce ozone in the atmosphere, it instantly creates a healthier work environment for your employees. Fewer of them feel bad when on the job, there are fewer sick days, and morale is generally improved just by knowing they are working in a place that cares enough to provide a healthy work environment.
Can VOCs Enter A Building Through The Soil?
Yes they can, and most definitely do.
VOCs entering a building through the soil is known as vapor intrusion. The concern is very real, since one of these VOCs is the explosive gas methane. The typical point of entry for these gases is the basement floor, or crawl spaces. Vapors can also enter through the slab floor of a building built on grade. Obviously, this applies to both businesses and homes.
VOC mitigation typically involves installing a sub-slab depressurization system. This creates a vacuum beneath the slab, drawing VOCs into the exhaust system. In larger buildings, there may be a network of PVC pipes attached to suction blowers. The VOCs are exhausted into the air outside the building, usually at the roofline or other elevated part of the structure away from any windows.
Schedule a VOC Test For Your Business.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) contends that VOC levels greater than 500 ng/L can be a health hazard in homes. Shockingly, data collected from thousands of homes tested for VOCs show the average indoor VOC level is 1,200 ng/L—more than twice the recommend threshold level. It is not a stretch to assume most businesses have similarly high VOC levels, especially considering most businesses have fixed windows which cannot be opened up to readily clear out stale air and let fresh air in.
Take the first step towards a healthier, more productive workplace by scheduling a VOC test. Lifetime Radon Solutions uses the most advanced testing equipment available to ensure accurate readings of VOC levels. If there’s a problem, we’ll advise you on the most proven and cost-effective approaches to improving your air quality.