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Home > The ABC of air > Pollutants
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are in fuels but also in many existing products: paints, inks, adhesives, stain removers, cosmetics, solvents ... for household professional or industrial uses,(for these reasons, their presence in indoor air may also be important). They are emitted during the combustion of fuels (especially in exhaust gases) or by evaporation during their manufacture, storage or use. VOCs are also emitted by the natural environment (Mediterranean vegetation, forests) and some cultivated areas.

Health effects

The effects of VOCs vary considerably depending on the pollutant considered. They range from some olfactory nuisance to mutagenic and carcinogenic effects (Benzene, some PAH polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), through to various irritations and a decrease in breathing capacity. 

Effects on the environment

VOCs play a major role in the complex mechanisms of ozone formation in the lower atmosphere (troposphere). They are also involved in processes leading to the formation of greenhouse gases and the “ozone hole”.

The reference standards

VOCs notably include aldehydes, ketones and monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (MAH) such as Benzene, Toluene, and Xylene (BTX).

Only Benzene is subject to regulation: 

Air quality objective
2 µg/mannual average
Limit values for the protection of human health
5 µg/m3 annual average