Volatile organic compounds are solvents that are released from paint as it reacts with the air. These compounds can cause headaches and dizziness, as well as respiratory problems. Long-term exposure to VOCs may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, as well as kidney or liver damage.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits the concentration of VOCs allowed in paint and other products. However, even at regulated levels, the compounds can produce unpleasant effects in those exposed. For this reason, some manufacturers make low-VOC or zero-VOC formulations of their paints. Ventilating a freshly painted room for hours or even a few days can also help to reduce the concentration of VOCs in the air and may abate symptoms of exposure.