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A volatile substance can be defined as (1) a substance that evaporates readily at normal temperatures and/or (2) one that has a measurable vapor pressure.
The term volatile usually applies to liquids. However, some solid materials can change directly from solid to vapor without ever becoming liquid, a process called sublimation.
The rate at which a substance vaporizes (volatilizes) under a fixed set of conditions is called the evaporation rate.
To reduce the risks associated with volatile materials, always use caution when heating them and avoid storing such materials in hot or sunny locations. Use code-approved storage such as solvent safety cans and flammable liquid storage cabinets which can reduce the likelihood and effect of a catastrophic fire.
Organic chemicals that easily form vapors are called volatile organic compounds (VOC's). Given the health and physical hazards associated with common VOC's, many companies have either reduced their use of these materials or substituted other, less hazardous, materials and processes. Substitution of this nature is called "green chemistry" as it also benefits the environment.
Other materials may emit enough vapor to exceed the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for inhalation. Always minimize your exposure to volatile chemicals by using engineering controls such as a fume hood or local exhaust ventilation. If those methods are not sufficient to protect you, be sure to use an approved respirator.
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