On a path toward low and zero VOC materials

By Steven Argent, Construction Direct at QOB Group 

Many of us take the air that we breathe for granted, but in the workplace exposure to harmful chemicals can have a detrimental and serious impact on our health. Improving our indoor environment by using products with low or zero VOCs plays an important part in the health, wellbeing and productivity of the workplace. After all, a safe and healthy workplace should be a given. But how many of us really understand VOCs and is a low or zero VOC interior really achievable?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are common air pollutants and you can be exposed to them by breathing polluted air that contains them. Emitted from certain solids or liquids, they can cause short-term health issues including eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches and dizziness, to long-term damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

The concentration of many VOCs is also much higher indoors than outdoors with organic chemicals widely used in the manufacture and maintenance of building materials, interior furnishings and cleaning supplies from paints to furniture, flooring to drywall and a whole lot more.

Many of the building standards such as BREEAM and the WELL Building Standard are driving the industry towards lower VOCs. In the case of One Carter Lane in London, the first building in Europe to be delivered under WELL and a project where QOB were fit-out contractors, the VOC rating of all materials had to be between negligible and zero, ensuring that office fixtures, fittings and fabric did not expel harmful chemical or organic emissions.

A flooring manufacturer offering low VOC, phthalate-free products and solutions which are sound-reducing and allergy approved will make a significant contribution towards creating a healthier workplace and meeting WELL certification, for example.

The desire to meet the new standards such as WELL needs to be instigated by a client. Many believe that to achieve high environmental standards will come at a significant cost, but if the client spends money at the front-end of a project then the operational costs in the long-term will be lower due to increased productivity and staff wellbeing.

It is surprising when you start to scrutinise products how difficult it can be to find materials that are natural and don’t contain any toxins. It’s critical that we stress the importance of education throughout all stages of the construction process, ensuring that building professionals and facility owners are aware of the low VOC material options that are available from suppliers and manufacturers.

Specifiers and their clients need to think carefully about what is used and the long-term effects this has on building occupiers.