TVOC Levels in a Childcare Facility – Warning Signs and How to Reduce Exposure
If you operate a childcare facility, the safety and wellbeing of your children and staff is a high priority to you. However, if your facility contains a high level of indoor air pollutants, you may unknowingly be putting them in danger.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are often to blame for poor indoor air quality. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature, which means they can easily escape into the air. These chemicals can enter an indoor environment from various sources, including building materials, cleaning products, and cigarette smoke.
The total volatile organic compound (TVOC) level of a childcare facility may pose a serious health risk to your staff and the children. Due to their developing immune systems, children are more susceptible to developing severe respiratory issues from breathing contaminated air.
How can you tell if the TVOC level in your childcare facility? Here’s what you need to know about the warning signs and how you can reduce exposure.
What Are VOCs?
As mentioned, VOCs are a diverse group of chemicals that can easily evaporate at room temperature. They include a variety of chemicals, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene.
VOCs can occur naturally, but for the most part, they are man-made for commercial purposes. For instance, VOCs are used to produce plastics, paints, adhesives, petroleum products and others. When these products begin to break down, they release VOCs into the air.
Although VOCs don’t pose much risk in solids and some liquids, their ability to evaporate into the air rapidly makes them dangerous in confined spaces. Therefore, if the TVOC levels of your childcare facility aren’t controlled, the concentration of toxins can cause adverse health effects to those who are exposed.
Ways That High TVOC Levels Be Harmful to Health
An indoor environment containing high TVOC levels can cause various health problems in both children and adults. Some of the most common symptoms of overexposure to VOCs include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Nausea and fatigue
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Coughing and wheezing
Along with these symptoms, high TVOC levels can also cause more severe health issues – especially in adults with underlying health conditions and children. For instance, after long periods of exposure, those at higher risk may develop chronic respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema.
To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even linked some VOC chemicals to cancer. For example, formaldehyde and benzene are classified as human carcinogens that have been linked to leukemia.
It is vital to monitor and control the TVOC levels in your childcare facility to protect the health of your staff and children. You must be able to recognize the signs of high TVOC levels and implement proper prevention techniques.
Factors That Can Contribute to Higher TVOC Levels
Various factors can contribute to a high TVOC level in your childcare center. Here are some of the most common ones:
1) Consumer Products That Contain VOCs
One of the less apparent contributors to high TVOC levels is the use of everyday consumer products. Many of the products people use each day contain high levels of VOCs, including:
- Perfumes and lotions
- Cleaning supplies
- Air fresheners
- Scented candles
- Art supplies
If you have any of these products in your childcare center, they may be emitting VOCs into the air. If you suspect that a consumer product is the source of your high TVOC levels, consider replacing it with a natural alternative.
2) Smoking Cigarettes Nearby
Although the U.S. government has banned smoking in most public buildings, nearby smokers can still affect indoor air quality in your childcare facility. Smoke can enter from windows, doors, and vents.
Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, including VOCs, and the majority are cancerous. So, when someone smokes near an open window, the smoke spreads quickly, cling to surfaces and seeps into the walls of your facility.
The chemicals that come from secondhand smoke can quickly cause your facility’s TVOC levels to rise and leave a lasting impact -long after the smoker is gone.
3) Plastics in Your Childcare Center
Another possible source of VOCs in childcare centers is the use of plastic materials inside the building. Some plastics emit high levels of VOCs as they break down.
This usually occurs as the plastic ages, but it can also happen if exposed to high temperatures or ultraviolet (UV) light. For example, even brand new plastics can emit VOCs if they’re left outside in strong sunlight for an extended period or placed near a hot furnace or heater vent.
4) Renovations and Remodels
Since many building materials contain VOCs, like formaldehyde, they emit these chemicals when newly manufactured and installed. Therefore, if you make any changes to the building structure, there could be an increase in indoor air pollution for a short period.
In fact, according to the EPA, there is a possible risk of exposure from any renovations that disturb the following:
- Painted surfaces – including walls, ceilings, and trim
- Wood flooring
- Carpeting made of synthetic materials (e.g., nylon)
- Building materials, such as plywood or particleboard subfloors
5) Mold Colonies
If your childcare center has a mold problem, it may contribute to high TVOC levels. Mold grows in warm, humid conditions and can quickly spread throughout a facility – especially during warmer months.
Once mold has taken hold in your facility, it releases a mix of chemicals into the air, including mycotoxins and VOCs. Thus, if mold spores are left untreated, they can become a significant health problem at your childcare facility.
If you suspect that your facility has a mold problem, contact an environmental testing company right away for help. They will be able to inspect your childcare center for mold growth, tell you whether it’s toxic or not, and recommend a course of action.
How to Reduce TVOC Levels in Your Childcare Facility
You can take several steps to reduce the TVOC levels in your facility and protect the health of those who spend their days there. Here are a few suggestions:
Only Use Natural Consumer Products in Your Facility
As mentioned earlier, VOCs can be found in many commercial products that we use every day – such as personal care products, cleaning supplies, paints, and certain materials.
However, you can preserve the indoor air quality of your care center by replacing these products with natural alternatives that do not contain VOCs.
For example, you can replace harsh chemical-based cleaning supplies with natural products or homemade solutions. Additionally, you can choose safer materials for all your decorating needs – such as furniture made with organic cotton fabric and other natural fibers.
And of course, VOC containing substances such as gasoline, other petroleum products, paints, and paint thinners should never be kept indoors, and instead, located in a locked shed and garage not attached to the child care center or school.
Use Exhaust Fans and Open Windows Regularly
Since VOCs are released indoors, sometimes the best thing you can do is remove the contaminated air by ventilating your childcare center. For instance, opening windows exposes the room to fresh air and helps to evict stale, contaminated air. However, you should close windows before dark because mold may begin to grow in damp conditions.
It may also be helpful to use an exhaust fan if your facility has one. Exhaust fans work by pushing out polluted indoor air and bringing in fresh outdoor air. This helps to remove odors, moisture, and stale air out of an enclosed space.
Filter the Air
VOCs are naturally absorbed into activated carbon. There’s a wide variety of activated carbon filters that can be installed on your existing furnace and HVAC system that will effectively remove a very large percentage of VOCs. Stand-alone portable air purification filters are also a good means to reduce VOCs in a localized area, such as a specific room. For more aggressive reduction of VOCs, air scrubbers can be rented that employ very high airflow rates to quickly reduce VOC concentrations over a very short period of time.
Replace Older Equipment and Appliances
As your facility’s equipment and appliances begin to age, they may release higher levels of VOCs into the air. Therefore, regular inspections and maintenance will help ensure that your ventilation system is operating correctly.
Additionally, you may consider investing in more energy-efficient equipment and appliances, which emit fewer VOCs than older versions of the same product.
Professionally Test the Air Quality in Your Childcare Building
Ultimately, you should consult with a specialist to determine the TVOC levels in your childcare center. This will help you pinpoint which air pollutants are present and what needs to be done to reduce them.
Your specialist will be able to test the indoor air quality levels in your facility and give you a thorough report of what is causing the high TVOC levels. This report will include recommendations on best reducing VOCs and protecting those who spend their days at your center.
Do You Need to Schedule an Indoor Air Quality Test?
If you are concerned about the air quality of your childcare facility, the team at Paul Sakson Environmental can provide the peace of mind you need.
Since 1997, our firm has been committed to providing accurate, reliable indoor air quality testing services to childcare facilities in New Jersey. We’ll provide a thorough assessment of your facility and identify the root cause of any problems.