Distributions of personal VOC exposures: a population-based analysis

Chunrong Jia, Jennifer D'Souza, Stuart Batterman
Environment International 2008, 34 (7): 922-31
Information regarding the distribution of volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations and exposures is scarce, and there have been few, if any, studies using population-based samples from which representative estimates can be derived. This study characterizes distributions of personal exposures to ten different VOCs in the U.S. measured in the 1999--2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Personal VOC exposures were collected for 669 individuals over 2-3 days, and measurements were weighted to derive national-level statistics. Four common exposure sources were identified using factor analyses: gasoline vapor and vehicle exhaust, methyl tert-butyl ether (MBTE) as a gasoline additive, tap water disinfection products, and household cleaning products. Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes chloroform, and tetrachloroethene were fit to log-normal distributions with reasonably good agreement to observations. 1,4-Dichlorobenzene and trichloroethene were fit to Pareto distributions, and MTBE to Weibull distribution, but agreement was poor. However, distributions that attempt to match all of the VOC exposure data can lead to incorrect conclusions regarding the level and frequency of the higher exposures. Maximum Gumbel distributions gave generally good fits to extrema, however, they could not fully represent the highest exposures of the NHANES measurements. The analysis suggests that complete models for the distribution of VOC exposures require an approach that combines standard and extreme value distributions, and that carefully identifies outliers. This is the first study to provide national-level and representative statistics regarding the VOC exposures, and its results have important implications for risk assessment and probabilistic analyses.

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