INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Semi-volatile Organic Compounds
UL has developed analytical tests for measuring SVOCs such as phthalates in the air. The first-of-its-kind technique involves collecting indoor air on specialized sorbent tubes followed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry analysis.
Semi-volatile organic compounds are the least volatile of all VOCs. They include plasticizers such as phthalates, flame retardants such as brominated organic compounds and organophosphate esters, and material components such as caprolactam. Even though they are the least volatile, there is strong concern about product-related SVOC emissions, as these chemicals may attach to indoor surfaces such as airborne particles and settled dust. The particles then become an exposure route for SVOCs when they are inhaled or ingested.1
WHAT DID UL DO?
The analytical technique needed to test for SVOC emissions is especially challenging, because they emit for a longer period of time at a much lower concentration than typical VOCs. Our R&D team’s advancing research methods have allowed UL to optimize our measurement protocol, thus enabling us to test SVOC emissions commonly found in products at very low levels.
To assist product manufacturers, built environment professionals (specifiers, building managers, architects), and health experts, UL has developed analytical techniques for measuring common SVOCs in the air. This technique involves collecting indoor air on specialized sorbent tubes, followed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis. GC/MS is a method that combines the features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify substances within a test sample. Our scientists use this technique in tandem with product evaluations conducted in controlled, environmental chambers to measure a wide range of volatile organic compounds from very volatile to semi-volatile.2
WHY IT MATTERS
Many SVOCs have been linked to serious health concerns, and many, like some phthalates, are endocrine disruptors and affect reproductive development. Possible serious health risks associated with the chemicals used as flame retardants have sparked a debate about whether the benefits outweigh the risks. In a comprehensive assessment of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the key routes of human exposure are likely from their use in household consumer products and their presence in house dust — not from dietary routes as with other Persistent Organic Pollutants.3
The unique testing methods UL has created for evaluating SVOCs enable us to measure a very broad range of chemicals emitted by manufactured products. As chemicals continue to proliferate in our work and living environments and manufacturers seek to monitor their global supply chains and minimize hazardous chemicals, our ability to develop new measurement tests for more chemicals contributes to creating safer products and healthier homes and offices.