Volatile Organic Compounds

In the processes of fabricating furniture, materials are often bonded or laminated, surfaces are primed and painted, and edges are seamed and sealed. The adhesives, binders, paints, sealants, solvents, thinners, and varnishes used in these fabrication processes can release a substantial amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the environment. As a goal, low or no volatile organic compound emissions are desirable. VOCs can cause significant health problems, environmental damage, and annoying delays in getting products to market.

Many large office furniture companies have had to warehouse their completed furniture products for several weeks to allow the vapor to dissipate before shipping them to the cli­ent. This step requires off-site storage, which adds time and cost to getting the furniture to market.

VOCs are naturally or synthetically derived, carbon-based organic chemicals emitted as gases into the air by the process of evaporation. Formaldehyde, the second most com­mon VOC, is produced as the solvent in adhesives, paints, and varnishes evaporates. Maintaining a moderate temperature can affect VOC emissions because relatively hot and humid environmental conditions allow for more vaporization of formaldehyde from wood-based material. Many cleaning products and wood-finishing preservatives are sources of VOCs.

When released in enclosed interior spaces, VOCs can contribute to health problems, such as:

■ Allergic sensitization or asthmatic symptoms

■ Eye, nose, and throat irritation

■ Headaches

■ Loss of coordination

■ Nausea

■ The exacerbation of lung, heart, and other existing health problems when com­bined with nitrogen oxide to form ground-level ozone

VOCs can penetrate the fibers of absorptive materials such as upholstered furnishings, in which they can remain embedded for weeks, months, and even years. Whenever possi­ble, upholstered furnishings should be delivered and installed in a project after the installa­tion of materials finished with polyurethane, catalyzed lacquer varnishes, or solvent-based adhesives. Visit www. epa. gov/7iaq/voc. html for more information.