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Sci Total Environ. 1999 Mar 9;227(2-3):197-213.

How to measure and evaluate volatile organic compound emissions from building products. A perspective.

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  • 1Department of Indoor Climate, National Institute of Occupational Health, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The primary emissions of VOCs (e.g. solvents) from building products influence the perceived indoor air quality during the initial decay period. However, secondary emissions will continue thereafter (chemical or physical degradation, e.g. oxidation, hydrolysis, mechanical wear, maintenance), in addition to sorption processes. Emission testing for primary VOC emissions is necessary, but insufficient to characterise the impact of building products in their entire life span on the perceived air quality. Methods to distinguish between the two types of emissions are required. Also, the influence of climate parameters on the emission rates is necessary to know for proper testing. Future product development and selection strategies of new building products should consider the secondary emissions, in addition to the contribution from the use of auxiliary agents for cleaning, maintenance, and other potential impacts either physical or chemical in nature. Some of the requirements for emission testing are discussed in terms of secondary vs. primary emissions in order to develop 'healthier/better' building products for the indoor environment. In addition, some of the assumptions about the possible impact of VOCs on health and comfort in the indoor environment are presented. Odour thresholds for VOCs are one or more orders of magnitude lower than the corresponding airway irritation estimates, and it also appears that chemically non-reactive VOCs are not sufficiently strong irritants to cause airway irritation at concentrations normally encountered indoors. Finally, future requirements for analytical laboratory performances is proposed to accommodate the increasing need to establish which VOCs may be responsible for the perception of odour intensity from building products.

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