SVOCs – Should I be Worried About Those?

If you’ve ever taken on a home renovation project and needed to purchase wall paint, you may have looked at “low VOC” or “no VOC” paint. Even if you don’t know what VOCs are, you are likely familiar with the terrible, headache-inducing smell that greets you when you pry the lid off a new can. Not only is the odor unpleasant, but the fumes are harmful when you breathe them in over a prolonged period of time.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a range of chemicals with a variety of physical and chemical properties. The term itself typically refers to those compounds with slightly lower molecular weights and boiling points.

Semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) are a subset of VOCs which, as the name implies, have higher molecular weights and are less volatile than their lighter counterparts. Unfortunately, the properties that make these compounds less volatile, also make them more stable in the environment, which allows them to persist for longer periods of time. As they are released from their natural or anthropogenic sources, SVOCs can adsorb to the surface of particles in the air, and ride along as the particles travel to their final destination – plants, soil or water that we eventually consume.

The strength of the chemical bonds in SVOCs results in their higher boiling points. Unfortunately, those strong chemical bonds also increase their stability in the environment, allowing them to persist for weeks, even months or years. Their persistent nature allows us to inhale, ingest or absorb them over a prolonged period of time, resulting in health effects ranging from asthma and allergies, headaches and nausea, to more serious reproductive or central nervous system effects.

Given the known risk to human health, a number of semivolatile organic compounds are monitored by the U.S. EPA through initiatives such as the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA). These initiatives have resulted in methods for extracting and quantifying a large number of SVOCs in matrices such as drinking water, wastewater and ground water. Regardless of the specific analytes being quantified, these methods – Method 525.2, 525.3, 8270 and 625.1 just to name a few – all require careful sample collection, preparation, analysis and data reporting to ensure that accurate and reliable data is being used to determine the quality and safety of our water sources.

Curious to see what that high-quality data might look like? Here’s an application note to show you an example.

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