What’s Offgassing?

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Outgassing is the release of chemicals from various substances, which can be harmful to human health and the environment. Examples include the smell of paint or new cars. Cheap building materials, such as those used in portable classrooms, can also cause health problems due to high outgassing levels.

Outgassing or outgassing refers to the release of chemicals from various substances under normal conditions of temperature and pressure. The outgassing can take a variety of forms and is a concern for some people, as some of the chemicals released during the release process are potentially harmful. Numerous studies have been conducted on the outgassing of various chemicals in an assortment of environments with the aim of determining the risk of the outgassing to human health.

You can probably think of some examples of outgassing. For example, when an area is painted, varnished, or stained, a strange scent often lingers for a few days. This is the release of gas and the strange smell is caused by volatile organic compounds, some of which are potentially dangerous. Many plastics also offgas. Inhaling these chemicals or absorbing them through the skin and mucous membranes can be very harmful.

Outgassing is a particular problem when it occurs indoors. For example, new cars have a distinctive and famous smell which is actually caused by the gas being emitted. Some people worry that the enclosed environment of the car concentrates chemicals, as they cannot escape, and this could make car travel unsafe. The enclosed space problem also explains why people are told to open windows and doors after painting, to help the room dry and keep the space ventilated.

When foul-smelling chemicals come out of the gas, people are made aware of the problem. Of greater concern are chemicals that have no odor, as some of these chemicals are very dangerous and can cause immediate health effects as well as long-term damage. Specialized chemical sniffers can be used to search for such chemicals in the air; sniffers can also determine levels of these chemicals to see how dangerous they are. Outgassing can also be harmful to the environment.

In some cases, dangerous levels of outgassing have been linked to cheap building materials. For example, inexpensive portable classrooms used by many school districts as a temporary measure to accommodate growing student bodies have been linked to health problems caused by the release of chemicals such as formaldehyde. Ironically, outgassing levels tend to be very high in these facilities due to the materials used such as flame retardants. These materials are designed to make portable classrooms safer for students and teachers, and sometimes the manufacturer is unaware of the hidden dangers.

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