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Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (mVOC) and Your Health

September 25, 2019

The musty odor you smell is decay off-gassing from biological growth which includes molds, bacteria and biofilm.  Furthermore, these odors contain microbial volatile organic compound (mVOC). People may compare this odor to a dank locker room, old cheese, dirty socks, or wet dog. Many of my clients may experience immediate and longer-term health effects from mVOC exposure.

mVOC Overview:

The dank musty odor signifies the presence of microbial volatile organic compounds that off-gas while reproducing. Traditional volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are mainly industrial made chemicals with low molecular weights, high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Additionally, mVOCs are released from metabolic processes of decay agents like fungi, bacteria and biofilm. The off gassing of mVOCs include a wide range of alcohols, ketones, aldehyde, esters, carboxylic acids, lactones, terpenes, aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur and nitrogen compounds.

mVOCs produced during primary fungal metabolism include Ethanol, 1-octen-3-ol, 2-octen-1-ol, and benzyl cyanide. MVOCs produced during secondary metabolism include 2-methyl-isoborneol, geosmin (1-10-dimethyl-trans-9-decalol) and terpenes.

mVOC Significance:

The perception of MVOC’s is an indication that microbial growth is occurring. In the indoor environment, exposure to MVOC’s has been blamed for headaches, nasal irritation, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. Information on MVOCs produced in indoor settings and health effects is limited. The specific toxic properties and concentrations of MVOC’s needed to produce symptoms are still unknown.

Recommendations To Reduce mVOC Exposure:

Prudent and preventative measures should be taken to eliminate or reduce musty odors. These measures include but are not limited to:

  • Professional HVAC system and air duct cleaning
  • Disengage any built in humidification devices within the HVAC system
  • Control humidity below 45% year round
  • Replace carpeting with a more synthetic floor system
  • Remove water damaged building materials
  • Improve airflow in the home or building by encouraging fresh air with windows open or with an air recovery system (HRV/ERV)
  • Running a medical grade air purifier with activated carbon (at least 6lbs).

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