Determinants of personal, indoor and outdoor VOC concentrations: an analysis of the RIOPA data

Feng-Chiao Su, Bhramar Mukherjee, Stuart Batterman
Environmental Research 2013, 126: 192-203
Community and environmental exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has been associated with a number of emission sources and activities, e.g., environmental tobacco smoke and pumping gasoline. Such factors have been identified from mostly small studies with relatively limited information regarding influences on VOC levels. This study uses data from the Relationship of Indoor Outdoor and Personal Air (RIOPA) study to investigate environmental, individual and social determinants of VOC concentrations. RIOPA included outdoor, indoor and personal measurements of 18 VOCs from 310 non-smoking households and adults in three cities and two seasons, and collected a wide range of information pertaining to participants, family members, households, and neighborhoods. Exposure determinants were identified using stepwise regressions and linear mixed-effect models. Most VOC exposure (66 to 78% of the total exposure, depending on VOC) occurred indoors, and outdoor VOC sources accounted for 5 (d-limonene) to 81% (carbon tetrachloride) of the total exposure. Personal exposure and indoor measurements had similar determinants, which depended on the VOC. Gasoline-related VOCs (e.g., benzene, methyl tertiary butyl ether) were associated with city, residences with attached garages, self-pumping of gas, wind speed, and house air exchange rate (AER). Odorant and cleaning-related VOCs (e.g., 1,4-dichlorobenzene and chloroform) also were associated with city and AER, and with house size and family members showering. Dry-cleaning and industry-related VOCs (e.g., tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene) were associated with city, residence water supply type, and dry-cleaner visits. These and other relationships were significant, explained from 10 to 40% of the variation, and are consistent with known emission sources and the literature. Outdoor concentrations had only two common determinants: city and wind speed. Overall, personal exposure was dominated by the home setting, although a large fraction of VOC concentrations were due to outdoor sources. City, personal activities, household characteristics and meteorology were significant determinants.

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