VOCs in Hospitals – Causes, Effects and Solutions

VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. This is a group of thousands of chemicals, many of which are colourless and odourless.

Depending on the setting, at any one time there could be hundreds of individual VOCs in the air. Though some will be innocuous, many carry certain health risks.

Sources of VOCs

Some VOCs are created by biological processes. Certain plants can produce moulds and other spores, for example. But the majority of VOCs in our atmosphere come from everyday products used in domestic, commercial and healthcare settings.

VOCs might be caused by combustion, such as smoking cigarettes, cooking, or burning candles. They’re found in many paints, air fresheners, cosmetics and cleaning products. They’re also produced by certain electronic devices, such as photocopiers and printers.

VOCs and Indoor Air Quality – What Are the Risks?

Concentrations of VOC in the indoor atmosphere can lead to “sick building syndrome”. In short, this means that simply existing in the building can lead to a number of health conditions.

The health risks VOCs pose depend on their concentration – how many of them are in the air, and how often do we breathe this air? Short-term exposure to high concentrations can result in:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Eyes, nose and throat irritation
  • Exacerbation of allergies, asthma, and respiratory conditions

Long-term chronic exposure to VOCs can increase the risk of liver and kidney damage, and even certain cancers.

VOC Levels in Hospitals

VOCs can be particularly prevalent in hospitals and healthcare settings as a by-product of anaesthetic medication and antiseptic solutions. Common VOCs in hospitals include isoflurane, Nitrous Oxide, sevoflurane, chlorine, and formaldehyde.

In one study, more than 40 VOCs were found across six sample sites in a French teaching hospital. The sample sites included a reception hall, a patient room, nursing care, a post-anaesthesia care unit, a parasitology-mycology laboratory, and a flexible endoscope disinfection unit.

Though we’re all at risk to the harmful effects of VOCs, hospitals in particular should work to fight the threat. Both staff and patients will spend long hours, or even days or weeks, in hospital buildings. So if there are any VOCs in the atmosphere, the exposure levels are likely to be high.

Also, many hospital patients have pre-existing heart, lung, and kidney conditions. VOCs could exacerbate their symptoms, or even make their conditions worse.

Ventilation is Key to Managing VOC Concentrations

If you want to address the VOC levels in your hospital, it helps to know the scale of the problem, and the key areas to address. An air quality consultation will help you identify the VOC levels and the exposure risks for staff and patients alike. Following the consultation, you’ll get a detailed report and actionable advice on the measures you can take to reduce VOC concentrations.

A hospital grade air purifier can help you quickly and thoroughly improve the air quality in your hospital or healthcare setting. Our Blueair HealthProtect air purifiers are fitted with advanced HEPASilent technology. This is capable of catching 99.97% of particles down to 0.1 microns, which includes VOC gases.

Take a look at our specialist air purification systems for hospitals.