SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1996

Screening and Selecting Building Materials and Products Based on their Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)


The cost of emissions tests and other factors have discouraged nearly all but the largest product manufacturers from obtaining emissions data. Emissions data, where available, require toxicologic evaluation before design professionals and other potential purchasers can use them. The absence of health effects information at the low exposures likely to occur from normal indoor uses of most products and materials increases the uncertainty in any such evaluation. The complex mixture emitted by most products poses an additional interpretation problem.

A simple screening procedure to identify potentially problematic products has been developed, and preliminary experience indicates it may be suitable for screening or comparing products during selection by design professionals and other consumers. Commercial specimens are tested for emissions in a small, controlled, dynamic test container over a 24-h period after initial screening by headspace analysis. The procedure allows identification of and quantification of dominant compounds that may then be reviewed for odor, irritancy, toxicity, and carcinogenicity. Only significant quantities of such substances likely to cause adverse effects are considered sufficient basis for rejecting a product. The screening procedure is relevant to the uses required for product selection and significantly less costly than current standard environmental chamber tests.

A relatively short-term test of emissions from office work stations using a large-scale chamber is also presented. This test is conducted at realistic building conditions. The six-day test duration is adequate to characterize emissions rates and provides data that can be used to both compare products and estimate expected concentrations in buildings.

Finally, procedures and criteria for evaluating the results of emissions tests with respect to the selection of products are discussed. With these procedures, measured and modeled concentrations are compared to published values for human toxicity, irritation, and odor and the existing data on indoor concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Author Information

Levin, H
Hal Levin & Associates, Santa Cruz, CA
Hodgson, AT
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA
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Developed by Committee: D22
Pages: 376–391
DOI: 10.1520/STP15634S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5340-0
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-2030-3