Health Effects of Urban Air Pollution

If you’re an urban area resident, it’s likely you fight traffic and work hard to afford the high cost of living in your town. City residents could also be affected by an enemy they can’t see called urban air. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) pollute the air both outside and inside your home. VOCs can cause short-term and prolonged adverse health effects including headaches, nausea, skin rashes, dizziness, and itchy eyes.

What are VOCs?

VOCs are gases or vapors emitted by organic materials that contain carbon. VOCs also include other elements such as hydrogen, chlorine, and sulfur. Gasoline, benzene, and solvents are some of the VOCs we use every day. Repeated and prolonged exposure to certain VOCs in the air can make you sick.

Over-Exposure Symptoms

When VOC levels in the air are low, your health may not be affected at all. However, breathing in VOCs over a prolonged period or in large quantities can make you ill. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, skin rashes, and itchy eyes, nose, or throat. Long-term exposure to VOCs can cause liver and kidney damage.

VOCs Inside Your Home

The highest VOC levels are often found inside your home. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that indoor air could be two to five times more polluted than the air outside. Everything from cleaners to paint to aerosol sprays contain these compounds and pollute the air. Since a lot of everyday household products can emit VOCs, the air in your home may be contaminated.

You can protect your family by consistently controlling your indoor air quality with an effective HVAC system and regular duct cleaning. Use cleaners and solvents in a well-ventilated area. It’s a good idea to open the windows occasionally to air out your home.

If you have plants in your house, they could be good or bad for your indoor air quality. Some plants, including the peace lily and areca palm, emit VOCs. Most plants help clean the air by releasing oxygen. You may encounter harmful compounds at the office, too. Printers, copiers, and correction fluid use chemicals that emit VOCs.

Outdoor Air Quality

VOCs are also released into the air by burning fuel. That’s why urban areas with heavy motor vehicle traffic and numerous factories often suffer from poor air quality due to VOCs. Airborne VOCs react with nitrogen and sunlight to create ground-level ozone. Don’t confuse this compound with the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Ground-level ozone leads to harmful smog. Breathing in smog can cause a sore throat, itchy eyes, and coughing.

Local and federal environmental regulations are helping to limit VOC emissions from factories and cars. Car makers are building hybrid and electric vehicles, which reduces dependence on fossil fuels that create VOCs. You can also take action and limit your exposure to VOCs inside your home. Use and store chemicals and cleaners with care and make sure your home’s HVAC system running efficiently. You’ll ensure that your family stays healthy while spending time together inside your home.

Featured Image Source: Wikimedia


Hey there, I’m Tiffany! I’m a work-at-home mom of two rambunctious children (Jasmine, 9 + Sean II, 5) and recently widowed at just 35 years old. I've remarried and currently live right outside of Baton Rouge in Denham Springs, Louisiana with two adoring cats and a dog. Let's connect on Twitter @fabulousmomblog.

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