Volatile Organic Chemicals, or VOCs, are molecules that readily evaporate from water. VOCs encompass diverse types of molecules, but most chemical smells come from VOCs. Because of these unpleasant smells and potential adverse health effects, VOCs in tap water can be a cause for concern. This article will cover the basics of VOCs including how they can enter your tap water, health risks of VOCs, and how to protect your tap water from VOCs.
VOCs in Your Tap Water
VOCs are found in products ranging from paints, cleaners, solvents, gasoline, dyes, refrigerants, and many other commercial and industrial products. Because of their widespread use, there are many ways VOCs can enter our drinking supply. Usually, VOCs enter the water supply when they are disposed of improperly. When VOCs are discarded, they can seep into the soil, getting into ground or surface water. VOCs can be spread further through rain or underground water migration. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates many VOCs that can enter our water supply, however, they estimate that VOCs still affect as much as one fifth of water supplies in the United States.
Health Risks of VOCs
Because VOCs encompass such a broad range of chemicals, the health effects of VOCs are diverse. Some VOCs, such as acetone, are generally recognized as safe and not associated with any adverse health effects at even moderate exposures. Some VOCs, such as trichloroethylene, may cause cancer of the kidney or liver. Other VOCs, like benzene, have led to anemia and even leukemia in industrial workers exposed to large doses. The toxicity of VOCs thus depends on the specific chemicals and the amount of contamination. If you suspect VOC contamination of your tap water, it is important to investigate what VOCs may be present and in what concentration.
If you have a high amount of VOC contamination in your tap water, the short term solution is to limit potential inhalation of VOCs. Because high temperature make VOCs more likely to evaporate, using colder water and increasing ventilation in your bathroom and kitchen can reduce the amount of VOCs you inhale. For a more long term solution, a water purification system can be beneficial. Activated carbon filters are helpful to bind to and remove many VOCs from your tap water. Additionally, comprehensive systems that include both an activated carbon filter and a reverse osmosis step can provide the most thorough protection against VOCs.
VOCs represent a diverse category of potential water contaminants. Although many VOCs are harmless, some can have severe health consequences. The widespread use of these chemicals in both consumer and industrial applications makes them a very prevalent potential contaminant. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to eliminate VOCs from your tap water.