Risk assessment of population inhalation exposure to volatile organic compounds and carbonyls in urban China

Zhengjian Du, Jinhan Mo, Yinping Zhang
Environment International 2014, 73: 33-45
Over the past three decades, China has experienced rapid urbanization. The risks to its urban population posed by inhalation exposure to hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) have not been well characterized. Here, we summarize recent measurements of 16 highly prevalent HAPs in urban China and compile their distribution inputs. Based on activity patterns of urban Chinese working adults, we derive personal exposures. Using a probabilistic risk assessment method, we determine cancer and non-cancer risks for working females and males. We also assess the uncertainty associated with risk estimates using Monte Carlo simulation, accounting for variations in HAP concentrations, cancer potency factors (CPFs) and inhalation rates. Average total lifetime cancer risks attributable to HAPs are 2.27×10(-4) (2.27 additional cases per 10,000 people exposed) and 2.93×10(-4) for Chinese urban working females and males, respectively. Formaldehyde, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, benzene and 1,3-butadiene are the major risk contributors yielding the highest median cancer risk estimates, >1×10(-5). About 70% of the risk is due to exposures occurring in homes. Outdoor sources contribute most to the risk of benzene, ethylbenzene and carbon tetrachloride, while indoor sources dominate for all other compounds. Chronic exposure limits are not exceeded for non-carcinogenic effects, except for formaldehyde. Risks are overestimated if variation is not accounted for. Sensitivity analyses demonstrate that the major contributors to total variance are range of inhalation rates, CPFs of formaldehyde, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, benzene and 1,3-butadiene, and indoor home concentrations of formaldehyde and benzene. Despite uncertainty, risks exceeding the acceptable benchmark of 1×10(-6) suggest actions to reduce exposures. Future efforts should be directed toward large-scale measurements of air pollutant concentrations, refinement of CPFs and investigation of population exposure parameters. The present study is a first effort to estimate carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risks of inhalation exposure to HAPs for the large working populations of Chinese cites.

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