Volatile Organics

These are chemicals of an organic nature (containing hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon) which readily volatilize, or travel from the water into the air. Most such substances are industrial chemicals and solvents. They include light alcohols, acetone, trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, dichloroethylene, benzene, vinyl chloride, toluene, and methylene chloride. These potentially toxic chemicals are used as solvents, degreasers, paints, thinners, and fuels. Because of their volatile nature, they readily evaporate into the air, increasing the potential exposure to humans. Due to their low water solubility, environmental persistence, and widespread industrial use, they are commonly found in soil and water.

The ability of VOCs to cause health effects varies greatly. As with other chemicals, the effects of VOC exposure depends on several factors including the type of VOC, the amount of VOC and the length of time a person is exposed.  Exposure to elevated levels of VOCs may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Headaches, nausea, and nerve problems can also occur. Some people do not appear to have any kind of reaction to fairly "low" amounts of VOCs, while other people are fairly sensitive.  Studies of animals have shown that breathing some types of VOCs over a long period of time can increase the risk of getting cancer.