Solvents, also known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs – are used aggressively during industrial processes to manufacture a huge variety of consumer products. You’re exposed to them daily.

“Chemicals known as solvents are part of a broad class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds are used in a variety of settings, are ubiquitous, and off-gas readily into the atmosphere. As a result of their overuse, they can be found in detectable levels in virtually all samples of both indoor and outdoor air. Certain kinds of these compounds are detectable in adipose (fat tissue) samples of all U.S. residents. Once in the body they can lead to a variety of neurological, immunological, endocrinological (hormonal), genitourinary, and hematopoietic (blood) problems.”

(Altern Med Rev 2000;5(2):133-143)

Solvents are found at much higher concentrations in indoor environments such as the home and workplace.

In 1985, the Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed the greatest personal exposure to VOCs occurs from air in the home and not from outside air as had previously been thought.

The EPA looked for the presence of 20 VOCs in indoor air, outdoor air, respired air, and personal air in a total of 780 people. The biggest source of personal exposure was from indoor air, which showed much higher levels, especially at night. The compounds found most frequently were:

  • Paradichlorobenzene (mothballs and room deodorizers/air fresheners)
  • Styrene (take away drink cups, plastics, foam rubber, and insulation)
  • Tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning products)
  • Vinylidene chloride (plastics)
  • Xylene (paints)
  • Benzene and ethylbenzene (petrol / gasoline)

A further study – EPA’s National Human Adipose Tissue Survey – revealed that four solvents were present in 100% of tissue samples tested across the country. In other words, they were found in everyone.

These solvents were xylene, dichlorobenzene, ethylphenol, and styrene, the main exposure sources of which are:

  • Laminated chipboard and plywood
  • Carpets
  • Foam
  • Plastic items, which off-gas chemicals called phthalates
  • Office equipment, fax machines, computers, copiers, etc.
  • Paint
  • Glue
  • Gas heating and appliances
  • Garages with paints, paint thinner, gasoline, oil, pesticides, herbicides
  • Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems
  • Acrylic nail applications
  • Adhesives/glues
  • Air fresheners
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Detergents
  • Gasoline additives and exhaust
  • Gums
  • Jet fuel exhaust
  • Lacquer thinners
  • Oil and grease extractors
  • Paints
  • Perfumes and fragrances
  • Petroleum products
  • Polyesters
  • Rubbers
  • Synthetic resins
  • Upholstery
  • Synthetic fabrics (e.g. curtains)

According to Dr. Walter J. Crinnion, ND, an expert in environmental illness:

“The unfortunate truth is, whether outdoors or indoors, at work or at home, solvents are being inhaled. The two worst places to have high solvent content in the air is the home, the place where people usually spend at least half of the day, and the workplace, where they spend at least eight hours.

…New or newly remodeled buildings have a substantial amount of chemical off-gassing and can easily become “sick buildings,” with many workers getting “sick building syndrome” (SBS). The most common presenting symptoms of SBS are: headache, dizziness, disorientation, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and eye, nose and throat irritation.

…Many EPA staffers began to complain of adverse health symptoms; the air was tested but no single agent was found to be out of range. However, when 71 ill employees evacuated the building claiming health problems – that went away when they were not in the building – and began picketing, the EPA realized the issue was real. The EPA’s awakening resulted in the booklet entitled: The Inside Story, A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.”

It’s beyond argument that dozens, if not hundreds, of VOCs are present in the air we breathe. But how do they impact health?

Well, overexposure or chronic exposure to volatile solvents damages the central nervous system and causes chemical-driven liver and kidney damage.

Benzene, in particular, has a severe toxic effect on blood and is a recognized human carcinogen. To put that in slightly more direct language: benzene causes cancer.

Solvents are primarily peripheral and central nervous system neurotoxins. When the central nervous system is primarily affected the symptoms can include:

  • Diminished cognition
  • Poor memory
  • Slower reaction time
  • Reduced hand-eye and foot-eye coordination
  • Diminished balance and gait disturbances
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Paresthesias
  • Tremors

Solvents have also been implicated in kidney damage and immunological problems, including increased cancer rates and immune-toxicity.

Solvents have been found to lower testosterone and can increase insulin and sex hormone binding globulin levels, rendering certain hormones in your body unavailable for use.

They have?been associated with infertility,?decreases in sperm count, increased?rates of spontaneous abortion, and?increased rates of foetal development problems.

Solvents have also been associated with increased cardiovascular death?rates, are very damaging to bone marrow and have been associated with many of the bone marrow cancers as well as anaemia and thrombocytopenia.

Indoor air levels of solvents?and formaldehyde are closely associated with asthma and chronic bronchitis, especially in children.

Low-dose exposure symptoms include rhinitis, sinusitis, pharyngitis, wheezing and persistent flu-like symptoms.

Because these compounds are stored in fat cells, they can cause weight gain and create situations where weight loss is difficult to achieve.

Hompes Method Testing Toolkit

Solvent/VOC Tests

It is possible to test for solvents using a blood test. Several solvents are analysed in the blood sample to give an indication of total body burden:

  • Benzene
  • Ethylbenzene
  • m,p-Xylene
  • o-Xylene
  • Styrene
  • Toulene
  • Iso-octane
  • Hexane
  • 2-methylpentane
  • 3-methylpentane

Please click here to learn more about the test and view sample reports.

The sample test report below is actually my own result, from August 2011.

You can clearly see elevated levels of ethylbenzene and m,p xylene along with moderately elevated levels of hexane.

Smaller elevations of benzene and 3-mrthylpentane were also detected.


When I saw this result, I immediately wondered whether these compounds could be affecting me “silently” and increasing my risk for developing symptoms or illness later in life, so I delved into the literature.

I found that xylenes and ethylbenzene may cause the following health challenges:

  • Neurotoxic “brain fog” (chronic or acute toxic encephalopathy)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache, depression, mood changes
  • Compromised learning, behavior and memory in offspring exposed to the chemicals in utero
  • Changes to liver, heart, kidneys, lungs, and nervous system function
  • The International Agency for Research ?on Cancer (IARC) says that ethylbenzene is a possible human carcinogen

I wanted to include my own result here for the simple reason that I feel pretty good – I consider myself to be healthy. Yet my body still had high or moderately high levels of several solvents.

Furthermore my test revealed elevated levels of ethylbenzene, a chemical that may cause cancer. I’m simply not willing to take a chance with this.

My results serve to illustrate the pervasive and insidious nature of solvents in the environment. They are in your body – make no mistake about it!

Fortunately, with correct measures to reduce exposure and detoxify the body, these dangerous chemicals can be safely removed from anyone and everyone.

Safe and Effective Detoxification

The Hompes Method can guide you through a safe and gentle detoxification programme, which I call the “Hompes Method 1,2,3’s of Detoxification“.

Step One:

The first step in detoxifying your body is to avoid putting toxins in! All too often, this step is overlooked. If you try to detoxify your body while you’re still loading up on toxins, you’re wasting your time – it’s like trying to empty a basin of water while the taps are still on.

Toxin minimization involves:

  • Eating clean food
  • Drinking clean water
  • Breathing air that’s as clean as possible
  • Putting less toxins on your skin
  • Optimising digestive function (see step two!)

Step Two:

It’s essential to optimize your digestive function. Why? Well, a digestive system full of bad bugs is a toxic digestive system – it leaks toxins into your body, overloading your liver’s ability to remove toxins.

A further problem is that a damaged digestive system can’t absorb nutrients effectively, and nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins and minerals are needed for proper detoxification!

Step Three:

Once nutrition, environment and digestion have been optimized, a carefully planned detoxification programme can be implemented using specific supplements and cleanses.