VOC Publications

Posted in VOCs

In order to determine the effect of materials with recycled content in relation to indoor air quality, it became clear that emissions data were required for standard building materials and their alternative sustainable counterparts.  This concern prompted the CIWMB to fund a laboratory-based, three-phase study by the Public Health Institute (PHI), with the Department of Health Services (DHS) being the principal investigator.  The study focused entirely on those building materials with indoor air quality implications.

The guidelines presented in this document are the result of Chapter 1229 of the Statutes of 1990 (AB 3588, Speier - see Appendix A) that required the Indoor Air Quality Program (now Indoor Air Quality Section) of the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) to "develop nonbinding guidelines for the reduction of exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from construction materials in newly constructed or remodeled office buildings."  The originating legislation was the result of concern about increasing complaints of sick building syndrome (SBS).  This is a situation in which building occupants report symptoms, such as mucous membrane irritation, headaches, stuffiness, lethargy, and drowsiness, and which the occupants associate with a building.  Researchers have reported that VOCs play a role in many SBS complaints, particularly in new or newly renovated office buildings, which often have substantial amounts of building and furnishing materials that emit VOCs.

Recommendations of the California Air Resources Board and Department of Health Services

When a classroom has been measured with elevated formaldehyde levels (more than 27 parts per billion--ppb), we recommend that the school implement the basic measures listed below.  Classrooms with formaldehyde levels below 27 ppb would benefit from these measures as well, because formaldehyde is a carcinogen, and it is desirable to achieve the lowest formaldehyde levels reasonably feasible.  However, achieving very low indoor levels (below 5-10 ppb) generally is not possible.  Outdoor levels average about 3 ppb, but can range up to 20 ppb in some areas, such as near traffic.

  • Reduce the total amount of formaldehyde sources in the classroom.
  • Provide sufficient ventilation to the classroom.
  • Testing the air
  • If levels are still higher than desired
  • Future purchases

The development of California’s first building-related environmental specification started in early 2000, when the Department of General Services’ (DGS’s) Procurement Division was in the process of issuing a request for bids for a three-year, $60 million open office systems furniture contract.  To address this issue, the several state agencies worked with DGS, the systems furniture industry, and private consultants to issue a benchmark environmental specification for procuring open office systems furniture.  This specification was issued in December 2000, and included testing and selection criteria for indoor air quality as well as requirements for recycled contents and lighting.

In 1999, the State Legislature directed the Department of General Services (DGS) to incorporate sustainable practices in the design and construction of 1.5 million ft2 of the Capitol Area East End Complex (CAEEC).  To address the Legislature’s directive, a multi-agency team, known as the Green Team, was formed under the leadership of the Secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and, in partnership with the Department of Health Services, California Integrated Waste Management Board, California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, and Department of Water Resources worked with DGS to develop sustainable criteria for the CAEEC.  These criteria, among others, included several to ensure good indoor air quality, including setting target limits on chemical emissions from interior finishing building materials and conducting airborne contaminant testing after completion of the construction and prior to occupancy.  Two design/build teams were selected: one for Building 225 and another for the remaining four buildings (171, 172, 173, 174).  The design/build teams were responsible for the design of the buildings (the basic shell design had been done previously by the State) and the construction.

Volume 2 of the report contains detailed data and graphs for all sampled locations.

It has been five years since the Indoor Air Quality Program issued the Standard Practice for the Testing of Volatile Organic Emissions from Various Sources Using Small-Scale Environmental Chambers (Standard Practice) on behalf of the California Sustainable Building Task Force.  We recognized from the start that maintenance of this document would be required to keep up with changes in the field and to track current health standards.  Limitations in staff resources have delayed this effort till now.  It is our intention that the update of the Standard Practice will be a continuous process, and this document presents an initial effort.


logo cdph1 California Indoor Air Quality is a program of the California Department of Public Health. It is our mission to investigate indoor air pollution, develop solutions, and promote healthy indoor environments. Read more about our work.

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