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Caulks and adhesives are applied wet, and then dry or cure in place. During that process a carrier evaporates, leaving the active agents in place. For most products this carrier was traditionally a volatile organic solvent that turned into an airborne volatile organic compound (VOC) as it evaporated. Air quality regulations and health concerns have driven a shift toward waterborne products. Evaporating water isn't a health concern, though other components of the coating or adhesive still generally release some VOCs.

Caulks and adhesives have their greatest effect on indoor air quality during and immediately after installation. The health hazard is particularly acute for installers. Most conventional products off-gas VOCs, formaldehyde, and other chemicals that are added to enhance the performance or extend shelf life of the product. Little scientific data is available on the health effects of many of these chemicals—and even less on the effects of exposure to a combination of such chemicals that may occur in buildings. Quality substitutions, which are lower in toxicity or nontoxic, are available for all of these products.

Even so-called zero-VOC materials may still release small amounts of organic compounds. People with chemical sensitivities should always test these products before applying them on their projects, or having them applied by workers. Aside from warnings about solvents with well-known health effects (such as benzene, toluene, or xylene), the scientific community offers little guidance on the distinction between acceptable and problematic VOCs.

In most categories, the Green criteria for "low-VOC" products is 50 grams per liter, which is well below even the most stringent VOC regulations in California.

Glue-down carpets and resilient flooring should be applied only with low-VOC adhesives. Alternative carpet-fastening methods should also be considered. These include: tackless strips, commonly used in residential settings; a hook-and-loop (Velcro®-type) tape system that allows sections of carpet to be lifted and reattached as needed; peel-and-stick adhesive systems, such as those used on modular carpet tiles—the acrylic adhesives used on tiles are generally considered safer.

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