Ambient BTEX levels over urban, suburban and rural areas in Malaysia

  • Haris Hafizal Abd Hamid
  • Mohd Talib LatifEmail author
  • Mohd Shahrul Mohd Nadzir
  • Royston Uning
  • Md Firoz Khan
  • Narayanan Kannan


Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene isomers (BTEX) are volatile organic air pollutants of concern which arise from natural and anthropogenic sources. This study aims to determine and evaluate the BTEX levels in ambient air in selected areas of Malaysia, namely: Kuala Lumpur (KL-urban), Penang (PG-urban), Bangi (BG-suburban), Langkawi (LGK-suburban) and the Danum Valley (DV-rural). Active sampling with sorbent tubes was applied in this study and samples were analysed using thermal desorption (TD) coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The results show that the urban area of KL had the highest ΣBTEX (40.36 ± 6.99 μg/m3) followed by PG (30.82 ± 8.06 μg/m3). ΣBTEX concentrations in the suburban areas of LGK and BG were measured as 20.22 ± 11.42 μg/m3 and 12.36 ± 2.26 μg/m3, respectively. The rural area of DV had the lowest concentration of ΣBTEX (5.55 ± 2.54 μg/m3). The average toluene to benzene (T:B) ratio at KL, PG and LG were found to be within the range of 2.00–5.00 thus indicating vehicle emissions as the main source. The benzene level at both KL (7.43 μg/m3) and PG (5.12 μg/m3) were found to be slightly higher than the annual benchmark of 5 μg/m3 as suggested by the European Union (EU). The results of health risk assessments found that the cancer risk (CR) based on benzene concentrations in urban, suburban and rural areas was > 10−6 thus indicating a link between human cancer risks and ambient benzene exposure.


VOCs Active sampling Gas chromatography BTEX ratio Cancer risk 



This work was financially supported by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) research grant AP-2015-010 and Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) Sciencefund 06-01-02-SF1274. Special thanks to Dr. Rose Norman for proof reading this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11869_2019_664_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 30 kb)


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© Springer Media B.V., onderdeel van Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Environment and Development (LESTARI), Universiti Kebangsaan MalaysiaBangiMalaysia
  2. 2.School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Science and TechnologyUniversiti Kebangsaan MalaysiaBangiMalaysia
  3. 3.Centre for Tropical Climate Change System, Institute of Climate ChangeUniversiti Kebangsaan MalaysiaBangiMalaysia
  4. 4.Department of Chemistry, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  5. 5.Faculty of Applied SciencesAIMST UniversityBedongMalaysia

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