The Kentucky Division for Air Quality uses top technology to detect Volatile Organic Compounds

Video by Lanny Brannock 

Division of Air Quality

You can’t see them with the naked eye, but they are there. Volatile Organic Compounds, known as VOCs, are present in things we do such as filling a gas tank, painting, mowing a yard or putting burgers on the grill. These VOCs, when mixed with nitrogen oxide and sunshine, create ground-level ozone. And while we need ozone in our atmosphere to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays, down on the ground, it’s a human health hazard.

“In Kentucky, ground-level ozone is mostly a summertime pollutant,” said Roberta Burnes, Policy Analyst III at the Kentucky Division of Air Quality (DAQ). “It’s created by chemical reactions between other air pollutants on hot, sunny days.”

To cut down on harmful VOCs, the Division for Air Quality recommends that you complete some everyday tasks such as painting, lawn mowing and grilling during the cooler times of the day during the summer months.

In a dramatic demonstration, the DAQ has used its Forward Looking Infrared Camera – or FLIR (pronounced “fleer”) – to show these invisible VOCs that are released by spray paint, paint thinners, gasoline and other items. The video also explains why VOCs are harmful to our health.

When the ozone is high in the Earth’s atmosphere, it protects us from harmful ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun. At ground-level, where we live and breathe, the ozone is a harmful pollutant that irritates your eyes, nose and lungs.  As the saying goes, ozone is good up high, but bad nearby.

In Kentucky, ground-level ozone is mostly a summertime pollutant.  It’s created by a chemical reaction between other air pollutants on hot, sunny days.  The main ingredients of ground-level ozone are nitrogen oxides, produced when you burn something, and VOCs.

“It is easy for each of us to help make a difference,” said Burnes. “Refuel your car after 6 P.M., mow late in the evening or early morning hours, look for low VOC paints and replace the caps to paint thinners as soon as you can.”

For more information on VOCs and air quality you may contact Roberta Burnes at



Categories: Air, Sustainability, Testing

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