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Pollution characteristics of ambient volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the southeast coastal cities of China

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With the rapid urbanization, the southeast coastal cities of China are facing increasing air pollution in the past decades. Large emissions of VOCs from vehicles and petrochemical factories have contributed greatly to the local air quality deterioration. Investigating the pollution characteristics of VOCs is of great significance to the environmental risk assessment and air quality improvement. Ambient VOC samples were collected simultaneously from nine coastal cities of southeast China using the Tedlar bags, and were subsequently preprocessed and analyzed using a cryogenic preconcentrator and a gas chromatography–mass spectrometry system, respectively. VOC compositions, spatial distributions, seasonal variations and ozone formation potentials (OPFs) were discussed. Results showed that methylene chloride, toluene, isopropyl alcohol and n-hexane were most abundant species, and oxygenated compounds, aromatics and halogenated hydrocarbons were most abundant chemical classes (62.5–95.6 % of TVOCs). Both industrial and vehicular exhausts might contribute greatly to the VOC emissions. The VOC levels in the southeast coastal cities of China were sufficiently high (e.g., 6.5 μg m−3 for benzene) to pose a health risk to local people. A more serious pollution state was found in the southern cities of the study region, while higher VOC levels were usually observed in winter. The B/T ratio (0.26 ± 0.09) was lower than the typical ratio (ca. 0.6) for roadside samples, while the B/E (1.6–7.6) and T/E (7.2–26.8) ratios were higher than other cities around the world, which indicated a unique emission profile in the study region. Besides, analysis on ozone formation potentials (OFPs) indicated that toluene was the most important species in ozone production with the accountabilities for total OFPs of 22.6 to 59.6 %.

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We thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. This research was financially supported by the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Nos. KZCX2-YW-453, KZCX2-YW-JS404 and KZCX2-EW-408), the Commonweal Program of Environment Protection Department of China (No. 201009004), and the Program of Bureau of Science and Technology, Xiamen (No. 3502Z20122013).

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Correspondence to Jinsheng Chen.

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Responsible editor: Gerhard Lammel

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Tong, L., Liao, X., Chen, J. et al. Pollution characteristics of ambient volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the southeast coastal cities of China. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20, 2603–2615 (2013).

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  • VOCs
  • Spatial distributions
  • Seasonal variations
  • BTEX
  • Ozone formation potentials
  • Southeast coastal cities of China