Indoor Environmental Quality: Chemicals and Odors

Chemicals and Odors

gloved hands with spray bottle and sponge

Chemicals and related odors can be sources of IEQ problems in buildings. Odors are organic or inorganic compounds and can be both pleasant and unpleasant. Some odors can be health hazards and some are not. While most chemical contaminants originate from within the building, chemicals can be drawn into a building from the outdoors as well.

Reducing exposure to chemicals in the workplace is a preventative action that can lead to improved outcomes for worker health and the environment.

Chemical Contaminant Sources

There are a variety of chemical contaminants found in a variety of sources. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are common chemical contaminants found in office and home environments and are a source of odors. VOCs are organic (containing carbon) chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air. Many products found in the office environment may have the potential to release VOCs. Examples include:

  • Caulks, sealants, and coatings
  • Adhesives
  • Paints, varnishes and/or stains
  • Wall coverings
  • Cleaning agents
  • Fuels and combustion products
  • Carpeting
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Fabric materials & furnishings
  • Air fresheners and other scented products
  • Personal products of employees like perfume, shampoos, etc.

If these and other chemical contaminant sources are not controlled, indoor environmental quality problems can arise, even if the building’s ventilation system is properly designed and well maintained. Some examples of building related chemicals, odors, and their sources are listed below:

Page last reviewed: May 17, 2013