VOC, Gas and fumes

Chemical pollution of the air


Chemical air pollutants are gases, nanoparticles or micro particles from combustion devices, tobacco smoke, household and personal care products, and various building materials and furniture that may contain large quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Testing and Detection Airflow in homes or offices is a super-highway for chemical compounds that create odors, smoke, and gases. This promotes the spread of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs); the best known are petroleum products such as fuels, formaldehyde and acetone. They can come off other sources such as:

  • Aerosols
  • Warm alcohol
  • Air fresheners
  • Lumber
  • Wax and waxing
  • Building glues
  • Electrical components
  • Cosmetics products
  • Household cleaners
  • Strippers
  • Stain removers
  • Detergents
  • Thinners
  • Hair fixatives
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Insecticides
  • Linoleum
  • construction materials
  • The furniture
  • The carpets
  • Insulating foams
  • Cleansers
  • The paintings
  • Cleaning products
  • Nail polish
  • Floor varnishes
  • The varnishes of the furniture

Volatile Organic Compounds

As their name indicates, volatile organic compounds (VOC) are defined by three main points: they are a combination of two or more elements; they are of biological origin because they contain carbon and hydrogen; and finally they are considered as volatile as they evaporate at room temperature and can easily vaporize.

The carbon and hydrogen used in the manufacture of many chemical products; this ensures that VOCs are present in a wide range of these products and that there are several possible sources of VOC emissions in indoor air (on this, see above list).

Many VOCs are known to be toxic, and some, such as benzene and formaldehyde, have been identified as carcinogens. Even if one has not identified adverse health effects for other VOCs, it still remains uncertain as to the risk that could lead to a long exposure to such chemicals at levels commonly present in homes. Although there is agreement on the fact that most VOCs have few health risks, vigilance is still in order, since the effects of exposure to VOCs differ from one context to another; it depends on the rate and duration of exposure, and, especially, the sensitivity of each person to different chemicals. As a precaution, it is recommended to reduce, if possible, the VOC content.

It is the organic nature of VOCs, since they are based on hydrocarbons, which makes the volatile: that is to say they evaporate and they evaporate at room temperature. One can think, for example, gasoline, a petroleum product from a variety of organic compounds, which reacts as such. One can also think of the adhesives made from boiled animal parts (hydrocarbons) are used in the production of wood products, vinyl floor coverings, etc., and which vaporize or produce gaseous emanations (clearance gas), even after hardened. This makes understanding the activity of VOC is more difficult that does not distinguish the evaporation of vaporization: both being considered change from a solid to a liquid or gaseous state or condition liquid vapor. To be fair, it is necessary to refer only to the concept of vaporizing in the case of material from non- transformed by the human biological organism. Other biological organisms such as molds that broadcast their spores in ambient air, feces mites, dust, have the ability to vaporize harmful proteins that affect the mucosa of the lungs. They play an important role in indoor environmental pollution emissions with sometimes benign, but often dangerous to health, and, in the short or long term.

Pollutants from furniture and building materials
A high proportion of VOC is found in common household products such as: furniture, mattresses, cabinets, building materials, wallpaper, cleaning products and glue. These products may release gases into the indoor air; this is called "gas emanations". Consideration should also be given to the fact that building materials such as insulators containing asbestos and paint containing lead can release harmful dust and particles when handled, especially during renovation work which require their displacement or withdrawal. Once again, AIRTESTS advises you to find out about the health risks of certain household products and building materials, and the precautions you should take before starting work that could compromise the health of residents or your family. In addition, if exposed, young children are most at risk because their respiratory system is not fully developed. It is therefore necessary to protect them more and to be attentive to the appearance of the symptoms relating to the exposure of VOC: irritations of the eyes, the respiratory and digestive tracts, headaches, sensations of drunkenness, dizziness and nausea.

Domestic toxic products are a source of VOCs. Exposure to these products is by direct contact, ingestion or inhalation. Health effects vary with duration of exposure: Short term exposure occurs at the time of product application. This can cause nausea, dizziness, allergic reactions or irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. Long-term exposure, on the other hand, can lead to hypersensitivity and sometimes even cancer. Some VOCs are more dangerous than others, for example:

  • Benzene: bone marrow infection, leukemia and nervous system depression;
  • Toluene: headache, nausea, dizziness and nervous system depression;
  • Xylenes: nausea, fatigue, dizziness, kidney and liver problems.

These three VOCs are found mainly in petroleum-based products such as adhesives, thinners, solvents, paint removers, varnishes, paint and stain ... In order to prevent VOC exposure, it is possible to think of using household products much less toxic and therefore more ecological. If not, make sure that product storage is consistent and make sure you take the proper precautions when using them. Formaldehyde is a colorless gas commonly used worldwide as a disinfectant and preservative. It is also used in many household products and in certain building materials. When present at high levels in the air, it gives off a pungent smell. Formaldehyde is found at low levels in all houses and all buildings. The main sources of formaldehyde in the indoor air are the following:

  • Tobacco smoke ;
  • The smoke of wood stoves and fireplaces ;
  • Vehicles fumes inside houses attached garages ;
  • Latex paints , glues , adhesives, varnishes and lacquers;
  • Wallpaper, cardboard and paper products;
  • Dishwashing detergents, fabric softeners , shoe polish and carpet cleaners ;
  • Some cosmetics ( nail varnishes and hardeners ) ;
  • Permanent press fabrics (for curtains for linen and clothing) ;
  • Furniture, cabinets and building materials made of particle board, of medium density fibreboard, hardwood, panels against plywood and certain molded plastics.

Formaldehyde is an irritant. A short-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause burning sensations in the eyes, nose and throat. The long-term exposure to moderate levels of formaldehyde may be associated with respiratory problems and allergies, especially in children.

In the case of industrial workers who are regularly exposed to high levels, formaldehyde can cause cancer of the nasal cavity. The level of formaldehyde in Canadian homes are well below levels that could cause cancer.

Common gas contaminants CO, CO2, NO2...

Carbon monoxide (CO)
This toxic gas is invisible and odorless and does not irritate. It is therefore impossible to detect its presence in the air without a detection device. It is therefore strongly recommended to install CO alarms in houses with combustion appliances. Carbon monoxide (CO), from the operation of a car in a garage or a faulty heater, is a dangerous poison gas because of its asphyxiating properties. It accumulates rapidly in the blood and prevents oxygen from being carried by the red blood cells and thus to oxygenate the individual. Slight exposure: headache, runny nose, eye irritation, flu-like symptoms, etc. Average exposure: drowsiness, dizziness, vomiting, disorientation, confusion, etc. Strong exposure: fainting, brain injury, death. Forte exposition : évanouissement, lésion cérébrale, mort.

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
This gas can be present in the indoor environment by the use of gas appliances such as gas stoves, water heaters, fireplaces, heaters, and generators ... This gas can also be produced by a vehicle that is allowed to operate in a garage or by cigarette smoke. Nitrogen dioxide can aggravate asthma symptoms, reduce the proper functioning of the respiratory system (coughing, wheezing) ... The best prevention is to properly maintain the appliances on an annual basis and to avoid using any equipment. Combustion in enclosed spaces, not ventilated or even poorly ventilated.

Carbone dioxide (CO2)
Carbon dioxide, a colorless and odorless gas is a normal constituent of the atmosphere that is found at concentrations ranging from 350 to 400 ppm. Inside the body, carbon dioxide is mainly produced by the occupants themselves. Office occupants exhale carbon dioxide at a rate of about 0.3 liter / min when performing light tasks. The concentration of CO2 in the air offices may, under certain conditions, be a good indicator of the effectiveness of the ventilation system; it is expressed in parts per million (ppm). To obtain an acceptable indoor air quality, it is recommended that CO2 levels do not exceed 700 ppm higher than the levels observed outdoors. CO2 is not toxic at high concentrations.

Cigarette smoke


The toxicity of tobacco is widely recognized. About 4,000 substances have been identified, many of which can cause cancer, in both smokers and non-smokers. Of these 4000 toxic substances, more than 40 of them are known carcinogenic compounds. These ingredients include nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic and DDT.

Tobacco second-hand smoke
Indeed, it is known that second-hand smoke (what is exhaled by the smoker or what emerges from the lit end of a cigarette) is a harmful VOC that represents a significant risk to the health of the person and to all the people who are exposed to it. This smoke is also more harmful than what is inhaled by the smoker since carcinogens are found in a much larger quantity. There are twice as much nicotine and tar. In more detail, we find...

  • Arsenic: this is a metal that is also found in insecticides. It is present in the cigarette since several tobacco producers use it on their plants.
  • Cadmium: is a heavy metal used in car batteries. The smoker inhales about 20% of the total amount of cadmium present in a cigarette.
  • Phosphorus: is a mineral used as a fertilizer or laundry detergent. It can cause irritation of the mucous membranes and their inflammation. In the long run, phosphorus can destroy bones.
  • Nicotine: It is a substance that creates addiction for smoker. Studies show that nicotine addiction can be as high as heroin or cocaine. Nicotine travels to the brain in 7 seconds after inhalation. It acts as a stimulant of the nervous system, it increases the heart rate and the blood pressure. It creates vasoconstriction (tightening of the blood vessels) in the epidermis contributing to the appearance of wrinkles. It also reduces stress and the sensation of eating. It is present naturally in tobacco and the amount (concentration) varies according to the part of the plant used.
  • Benzene: It has long been used in the manufacture of ink, rubber, and lacquer and paint stripper. Today, we know that it is the cause of many cancers and leukemia in humans.
  • Carbon monoxide: it decreases the oxygen transport to the body by the red blood cells thus reducing the ability of the individual to be well oxygenated. This is why smokers are usually out of breath quickly after an effort.
  • Hydrogen cyanide: It was used as a deadly poison in gas chambers at the time. It is still present in low doses in the cigarette. It has the effect of damaging small eyelashes that protect the lung system, allowing them to accumulate more easily in the lungs.
  • Formaldehyde: are used as a liquid to embalm corpses. It is an important carcinogen.

Here is the partial list of ingredients that make up the cigarette (140/4000):

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Acetic acid
  • Acetone
  • Acetonitrile
  • Acetylene
  • Acids (others, 6)
  • Acrolein
  • Acrylonitrile
  • Alcohols (7)
  • Aldehydes (6)
  • Alkaloids (17)
  • Alcanes (20)
  • Alcènes (16)
  • Amines (16)
  • 3-aminobiphenyl
  • 4-aminobiphenyl
  • 1-aminonapthalène
  • 2-aminonapthalène
  • Ammonia
  • Anabasine
  • Anatabine
  • Aniline
  • Anthracene (5)
  • Argon
  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Benzo [a] anthracene
  • Benzo [a] pyrene
  • Benzo [b] fluoranthene
  • Benzo [j] fluoranthene
  • Benzo [k] fluoranthene
  • Benzofurans (4)
  • Bipyridyls (4)
  • 1,3-butadiene
  • Butyraldehyde
  • Cadmium
  • Campestrol
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Catechols
  • Cholesterol
  • Chromium
  • Chrysene
  • M + p-cresol
  • O-cresol
  • Crotonaldehyde
  • Cyclotenes (10)
  • Dibenzo [a, h] acridine
  • Dibenzo [a, j] acridine
  • Dibenzo [a, h] anthracene
  • 7h-dibenzo [c, g] carbazole
  • Dibenzo [a, i] pyrene
  • Dibenzo [a, l] pyrene
  • Dihydroxybenzenes, other
  • 1,1-dimethylhydrazine
  • Water
  • Fluoranthenes (7)
  • Fluorenes (7)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formic acid
  • Furanes (5)
  • Glycerol
  • Tar
  • N-hentriacontane
  • Hydrazine
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Hydrogen
  • Hydrocyanic acid
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Hydroquinone
  • Indeno [1,2,3-cd] pyrene
  • Isoprene
  • Indoles (14)
  • Ketones (3)
  • Lactic acid
  • Lead
  • Limonene
  • Linoleic acid
  • Linolenic acid
  • Maleic hydrazide
  • Mercury
  • Methane
  • Methanol
  • Methylamine
  • Methyl methanoate
  • 5-methylchrysene
  • Methyl ethyl ketone
  • 4- (methylnitrosoamino) -1- (3-pyridyl) -1-butanone (nnk)
  • N-methylpyrrolidine
  • Naphthalenes (24)
  • 2-naphthylamine
  • Neophytadienes (4)
  • Nickel
  • Nicotine
  • Nitric oxide
  • Nitriles (10)
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • 2-nitropropane
  • Nitrosamines
  • N-nitrosoanabasine (nab)
  • N-nitrosoanatabine (nat)
  • N-nitrosodiethanolamine
  • N-nitrosodiethylamine
  • N-nitrosodimethylamine
  • N-nitrosométhyléthylamine
  • N-nitrosomorpholine
  • N-nitrosonornicotine (nnn)
  • N-nitrosopyrrolidène
  • Oxygen
  • Palmitic acid
  • Phenanthrenes (7)
  • Phenols (46)
  • Picolines
  • Polonium-210 (radon)
  • Polyphenols
  • Propionaldehyde
  • Propionic acid
  • Pyrazines (volatile) (18)
  • Pyrenees (6)
  • Pyridines (26)
  • Pyrrole
  • Pyrrolidene
  • Quinolines (7)
  • Quinones
  • Resorcinol
  • Selenium
  • Scopoletin
  • Sitosterol
  • Skatole
  • Solanesol
  • Stearic acid
  • Stigmasterol
  • Styrene
  • Terpenes (200-250)
  • Toludines
  • Toluene
  • Ortho-toluidine
  • Urethane (ethyl carbamate)
  • Vinyl chloride
  • 3-vinylpyridine

Cigarette smoke lasts several hours in a room. There is no ventilation or air purification system that is efficient enough to eliminate it completely. Opening a window, smoking in one room and smoking under the oven hood are not effective methods for reducing smoke. It is therefore necessary to completely avoid smoking indoors. In addition, the chemicals that composed smoke can remain long after the cigarette is extinguished in the air, on walls, furniture, carpets, toys ... People in contact with this contaminated materials can suffer the effects of second-hand smoke.

Damage from exposure to second-hand smoke can be significant: increased symptoms of respiratory irritation, increased frequency of episodes and severity of asthma, and even develop cancer. It should be added that young children are more vulnerable to second-hand smoke, and are more likely to develop respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis; there are even new cases of asthma in children who are exposed to it before the age of one. With the scientific knowledge we have today about the dangers of smoking, it is strongly recommended that you never smoke indoors, when it is not forbidden, whether at home or at work. It should be noted that no house or office is immune to the generation and circulation of VOCs.

Your neighbors smoke? Do you smell the smell of cigarettes in your home? Cigarette smoke can enter through open doors, windows, crevices and gaps in walls, floors or ceilings. Ventilation systems, electrical and telephone outlets, cables, lights and pipes. Air quality tests are available to detect the types of contaminants occupants are exposed to. Surface tests are also available to determine if there was a smoker in the premises prior to the purchase of the property.

Cannabis smoke


Cannabis contains substantially the same chemicals as the cigarette. Unlike cigarettes, the seal does not contain a filter to limit the amount of toxic substances entering the lungs. Marijuana joint contains up to 50% more tar than a cigarette. People who smoke cannabis breathe smoke deeper than when they smoke cigarettes, increasing the impact on the lungs. Few studies have been done to determine the impact of second-hand smoke on health. But, there is every reason to believe that the effects are harmful to health, just like second-hand smoke.

Cannabis products are produced from the plant Cannabis sativa. These contain more than 585 chemicals including 120 called cannabinoids. It is important that the product purchased is good quality since sometimes it can find pesticides, molds, heavy metals, growth hormones...

The main cannabinoids are:

  • THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) which causes the main psychoactive effects;
  • Cannabinol (CBN) which produces psychoactive effects (approximately 10% of THC);
  • Cannabidiol (CBD) has no psychoactive effects, but has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antinausea, anti-emetic, antipsychotic, anti -ischemic, anti-anxiety and anti-epileptic properties.

Their concentration varies according to the cannabis variety, the soil and climatic conditions and finally the cultivation techniques.

People who smokes cannabis joints exposes themselves to the same risks as smoking cigarette is...

  • Throat cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Increase / aggravation of respiratory problems (chronic bronchitis, chronic cough, wheezing ...)
The analysis tests available at the moment are surface tests that make it possible, among other things, to detect the presence of cannabis residue that could have been left by the former occupants or the current occupants of the premises.

Radon, a radioactive gas


Radon is a radioactive gas that results from the natural decomposition of uranium present naturally in rocks, soil and groundwater. It is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Radon escapes from the ground to air. Outside, it does not represent any danger since its concentration is diluted. However, it can infiltrate homes or any other building. When inside, it is trapped and accumulate and reach high concentrations. In these cases, it can be harmful to the health of the occupants. In long term exposure, the risk for high concentration environment is to develop lung cancer. However, the risks are based on 3 important factors: the concentration of radon, the duration of exposure of the occupant and his habits related to tobacco. Radon does not cause breathing problems (e.g. chronic bronchitis or emphysema), allergies, asthma or congenital malformations.

A study conducted by Health Canada in 15,000 homes across the country showed that one (1) out of ten (10) homes in Quebec have a radon problem. Indeed, 6.9% of homes in Montreal, 8.8% of homes in the Quebec City area and 12.1% of homes in the Laval area that were tested had a radon problem. It should be noted that each house is unique and that we cannot rely on the results of neighboring houses or the average of the neighborhood. Radon accumulates in the lowest and least ventilated rooms in a building, whether the house is new or old. Generally, it is in the basement that we find the highest concentrations.

In Canada, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking (for smokers) and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Smokers are even more concerned about radon since their risk of developing this cancer is considerably increased due to the damage already present in their lungs. It is estimated that a person who does not smoke, but who is exposed to high levels of radon throughout his life, has one (1) in 20 chance of developing lung cancer, unlike a smoker who has one (1) chance out of three (3). Radon disintegrates into small radioactive particles that can be inhaled. When they are found in the lungs, they can damage the lung cells. Those cells may form cancers when they renew, reproduce. In Canada, it is estimated that 16% of lung cancer deaths are associated with radon exposure.

How can radon infiltrate inside your building? Over the year, the air pressure inside your house is less than the air around the foundation. This pressure difference allows the gases present in the ground to penetrate inside the buildings through an opening with the ground. Whether the buildings are new, recent or old, an opening is possible. Radon can penetrate inside a building through a crack in the foundation, a breach around pipes, an unfinished floor in the basement, a dirt floor, catch basins, crawl spaces, joints, faucets, etc. Radon accumulates significantly in the lowest rooms and those that are less well ventilated (e.g. the basement). Radon can be found in groundwater from small private or community wells. Radon from the soil can dilute and accumulate in well water. When water is agitated while taking a shower, during the laundry ... the radon goes in the air. It should be noted that radon is less harmful when ingested than when inhaled. The health risks are really related to the inhalation.

The amount of radon present in a home varies according to the concentration of uranium and radon in the soil, the climate, the ventilation of the premises, the water tightness and the insulation of the building and finally according to the negative pressure. When the pressure of the air is less inside a building than outside, radon can penetrate more easily through an opening.

To find out how much radon is in your building, you need to measure it. The unit of measure for radon is Becquerel per cubic meter, one (1) Bq is one (1) radioactive decay per second. Health Canada recommends that the radon concentration present be below 200 Bq / m3. On the other hand, even if the risks are low down to 200 Bq / m3, no level is considered without risk. Each owner must decide which level he is willing to accept. Health Canada recommends that the situation be corrected within two (2) years if the concentration is between 200 and 600 Bq / m3 and in less than one (1) year if the values exceed 600 Bq / m3.

It should be noted that the results of tests carried out in the surrounding home should not be relied on since the radon concentrations may vary from one house to another, even though they are very close together. It should be noted that in Canada, building materials such as stones, bricks, concrete or granite are not considered sources of radon. Natural materials extracted from the ground such as granite may contain uranium. However, in February 2010, Health Canada conducted an analysis of 33 granite types commonly purchased in Canada, and none containing significant levels of radon.

Sample. Health Canada recommends that radon measurements be taken over a period of at least three (3) months and ideally during the fall or winter when ventilation is reduced. The detector must be installed on the lowest floor of the building where occupants spend a minimum of four (4) hours per day. A building can be diagnosed by performing a short-term measurement (a minimum of 7 days), in a room or in a representative and regularly frequented area. Subsequently, and in order to obtain more accurate results, it is a good idea to perform a long-term reading (at least 3 to 4 months) in the basement.

Whether the building is new or old, it is better to have the presence of radon checked in the home. Note: It is advisable to follow the recommendations of the national authorities concerning measurement methods, their period and concentration limits requiring action to reduce radon. Short Term Detection - Radon Detector for 7 Days

The electronic detection device available for rent makes it possible to measure the average concentration of radon present in the air for a period of 7 days and it even gives an answer from day 1. The electronic device is powered by batteries that which avoids the connection to a wall socket. It makes it possible to identify quickly the places most at risk and regardless of the environment, in a house, a workplace, a school ... This is the device the most reliable on the market with an accuracy rate of ± 5%. Short-term concentration averages are often used to identify the effects of actions taken to reduce the level of radon (eg, change in ventilation). These averages can also be used to provide a general, but relevant, estimate of concentration levels, in the case where a long-term measurement cannot be made.

How it works? The electronic detection of radon is based on the diffusion of gas in a detection chamber. When the radon atoms decay, they emit charged Alpha particles. These particles are then identified by a photovoltaic silicon LED (diode). Each of these Alpha generates a small electrical impulse when it hits the diode. It is then converted and augmented to produce an electrical signal. The maximum amplitude of this electrical signal is digitized by a digital converter (ADC) and this amplitude is proportional to the energy of the alpha particles striking the LED (photovoltaic diode). The microcontroller records the time and strength of each particle detected. This information is used to calculate the average radon concentration on a weekly basis. The system operates at low voltage, which allows it to operate for 3 consecutive years before replacing the batteries. Long-term detection - over a period of at least three (3) months

In almost all radon buildings, the important thing is to know how many there are. It must then be able to quantify it. In a home, radon levels vary from day to day, from hour to hour. As a result, the most accurate measure of whether or not a problem is present is to measure the gas over a period of at least three (3) months. It is best to take these measurements during the fall or winter and the detector is installed on the lowest floor of the home. The most popular option is where the consumer gets a long-term radon kit and installs it himself at home. The results obtained after three (3) months can represent fairly accurately the annual average radon exposure for which the occupant is exposed.

Results interpretation

  • Health Canada recommends that the radon level not exceed the limit of 200 Becquerel’s / m3.
  • US FDA recommends that the radon level does not exceed the limit of 150 Becquerel’s / m3.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the annual average radon concentration indoor be lower than 100 Becquerel’s / m3.

Your results exceed the acceptable radon limit issued by the Government of Canada

Individual protection

In the case of chronic smokers, it is important in the first place to quit. The risk of developing lung cancer associated with radon will be reduced.

Correction of the dwelling

Health Canada recommends that the situation be corrected within two (2) years if the concentration is between 200 and 600 Bq / m3 and in less than one (1) year if the values exceed 600 Bq / m3. Whether there are smokers in the residence or not, corrections should be made.

  • Seal cracks in the foundation;
  • Seal openings that are in contact with the ground;
  • If sumps pump are present, ensure that they are covered and ventilated to the outside;
  • Improve ventilation in the house and even more in the basement.

If the measurements obtained are very high, the corrections mentioned above may not be sufficient. In this case, a qualified radon contractor will be required. Systems that evacuate radon from around the foundation can be installed to prevent it from entering the home. After such work, it is better to measure the radon concentrations again to ensure the effectiveness of the corrections made.

It is important to choose the company that will carry out such work. A list of certified companies is available on Health Canada's Canadian National Radon Jurisdiction Program. You plan to build your house, you can prevent radon infiltration.

It is possible to use techniques that minimize the infiltration of radon into the home. Contractors can do this before your home is built, reducing costs if such procedures were used after construction.