Characteristics and health risk assessment of volatile organic compounds emitted from interior materials in vehicles: a case study from Nanjing, China

Research Article


It has become a great habit for driving to work in people’s daily life in China. In order to understand the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in vehicles and the health risks related to inhalation exposure to VOCs, this study investigated the pollution characteristics and health risks posed by VOCs emitted from interior materials in vehicles. A total of 47 of 62 VOCs were studied, using 23 randomly selected vehicles of different brands in Nanjing city, China. The potential cancer and non-cancer health risks associated with VOC inhalation were assessed based on conventional approaches proposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The mean concentration of total VOCs was 1126.85 μg/m3, with a range of 321.29 to 2321.94 μg/m3. Of these, halohydrocarbons and aromatic hydrocarbons were the dominant components of the detected VOCs. The concentrations of several individual VOC exceeded more than 100 μg/m3. The individual mean cancer risks for the 17 health-related VOCs ranged from 4.64 × 10−10 to 1.09 × 10−4, with a cumulative risk of 1.61 × 10−4. The mean cancer risks associated with naphthalene, chloroform, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, and 1,2-dibromoethylene were 1.09 × 10−4, 1.61 × 10−5, 1.11 × 10−5, and 1.07 × 10−5, respectively. These risks are higher than the acceptable risk levels defined by the USEPA and the World Health Organization (WHO). Of these, naphthalene was regarded as having a “definite risk”; chloroform, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, and 1,2-dibromoethylene were regarded as having a “probable risk”; and 1,2-dichloroethane and carbon tetrachloride were regarded as having “possible risk.” The individual mean non-cancer risks associated with 28 health-related VOCs and total VOCs were within acceptable ranges; naphthalene was the dominant pollutant.


Volatile organic compounds Health risk assessment Interior materials Vehicles 



We thank Dr. Tarah Waters from The Chinese University of Hong Kong for her language modification.


  1. An T, Huang Y, Li G, He Z, Chen J, Zhang C (2014) Pollution profiles and health risk assessment of VOCs emitted during e-waste dismantling processes associated with different dismantling methods. Environ Int 73:186–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Branco PTBS, Nunes RAO, Alvim-Ferraz MCM, Martins FG, Sousa SIV (2015) Children’s exposure to indoor air in urban nurseries—part II: gaseous pollutants’ assessment. Environ Res 142:662–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brodzik K, Faber J, Łomankiewicz D, Gołda-Kopek A (2014) In-vehicle VOCs composition of unconditioned, newly produced cars. J Environ Sci 26:1052–1061CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cao X, Yao Z, Shen X, Ye Y, Jiang X (2016) On-road emission characteristics of VOCs from light-duty gasoline vehicles in Beijing, China. Atmos Environ 124(Part B):146–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chien Y-C (2007) Variations in amounts and potential sources of volatile organic chemicals in new cars. Sci Total Environ 382:228–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Colman Lerner JE, Sanchez EY, Sambeth JE, Porta AA (2012) Characterization and health risk assessment of VOCs in occupational environments in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Atmos Environ 55:440–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dai H, Jing S, Wang H, Ma Y, Li L, Song W, Kan H (2017) VOC characteristics and inhalation health risks in newly renovated residences in Shanghai, China. Sci Total Environ 577:73–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Du Z, Mo J, Zhang Y (2014) Risk assessment of population inhalation exposure to volatile organic compounds and carbonyls in urban China. Environ Int 73:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Faber J, Brodzik K, Gołda-Kopek A, Łomankiewicz D (2013) Benzene, toluene and xylenes levels in new and used vehicles of the same model. J Environ Sci 25:2324–2330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Geiss O, Tirendi S, Barrero-Moreno J, Kotzias D (2009) Investigation of volatile organic compounds and phthalates present in the cabin air of used private cars. Environ Int 35:1188–1195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. He Z, Li G, Chen J, Huang Y, An T, Zhang C (2015) Pollution characteristics and health risk assessment of volatile organic compounds emitted from different plastic solid waste recycling workshops. Environ Int 77:85–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Huang Y, Ho SSH, Ho KF, Lee SC, Yu JZ, Louie PKK (2011) Characteristics and health impacts of VOCs and carbonyls associated with residential cooking activities in Hong Kong. J Hazard Mater 186:344–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jo W-K, Yu C-H (2001) Public bus and taxicab drivers’ work-time exposure to aromatic volatile organic compounds. Environ Res 86:66–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mishra N, Bartsch J, Ayoko GA, Salthammer T, Morawska L (2015) Volatile organic compounds: characteristics, distribution and sources in urban schools. Atmos Environ 106:485–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Petry T, Vitale D, Joachim FJ, Smith B, Cruse L, Mascarenhas R, Schneider S, Singal M (2014) Human health risk evaluation of selected VOC, SVOC and particulate emissions from scented candles. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 69:55–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ramírez N, Cuadras A, Rovira E, Borrull F, Marcé RM (2012) Chronic risk assessment of exposure to volatile organic compounds in the atmosphere near the largest Mediterranean industrial site. Environ Int 39:200–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sarigiannis DA, Karakitsios SP, Gotti A, Liakos IL, Katsoyiannis A (2011) Exposure to major volatile organic compounds and carbonyls in European indoor environments and associated health risk. Environ Int 37:743–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Sexton K, Linder SH, Marko D, Bethel H, Lupo PJ (2007) Comparative assessment of air pollution–related health risks in Houston. Environ Health Perspect 115:1388–1393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sofuoglu SC, Aslan G, Inal F, Sofuoglu A (2011) An assessment of indoor air concentrations and health risks of volatile organic compounds in three primary schools. Int J Hyg Environ Health 214:36–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. UNEP-ILO-WHO (2009) Environmental Health Criteria 239. Principles for modelling dose-response for the risk assessment of chemicals. Published under the Joint Sponsorship of the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Labour Organization and theWorld Health Organization. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  21. USEPA (1999) Compendium Method TO-15. Determination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air collected in specially-prepared canisters and analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Center for Environmental Research Information Office of Research and Development U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Cincinnati, OH 45268Google Scholar
  22. Wan KJ, Lee JH (2009) In-vehicle levels of naphthalene and monocyclic aromatic compounds according to vehicle type. Environ Eng Res 14:180–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. WHO (1993) Guidelines for drinking-water quality. Chemical apects. Office of Publications, WHO, Geneve. Available at: Accessed 6 March 2011
  24. WHO (2013) Combined or multiple exposure to health stressors in indoor built environments: an evidence-based review prepared for the WHO training workshop multiple environmental exposures and risks. Bonn, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  25. Wu C-F, Liu LJS, Cullen A, Westberg H, Williamson J (2011) Spatial–temporal and cancer risk assessment of selected hazardous air pollutants in Seattle. Environ Int 37:11–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Xu B, Wu Y, Gong Y, Wu S, Wu X, Zhu S, Liu T (2016) Investigation of volatile organic compounds exposure inside vehicle cabins in China. Atmos Pollut Res 7:215–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Yang T, Zhang P-P, Xu B-P, Xiong J-Y (2017) Predicting VOC emissions from materials in vehicle cabins: determination of the key parameters and the influence of environmental factors. Int J Heat Mass Transf 110:671–679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Yoshida T, Matsunaga I (2006) A case study on identification of airborne organic compounds and time courses of their concentrations in the cabin of a new car for private use. Environ Int 32:58–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. You K-W, Ge Y-S, Hu B, Ning Z-W, Zhao S-T, Zhang Y-N, Xie P (2007) Measurement of in-vehicle volatile organic compounds under static conditions. J Environ Sci 19:1208–1213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Yue T-T, Yue X, Chai F-H, Hu J-N, Lai Y-T, He L-Q, Zhu R-C (2017) Characteristics of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the evaporative emissions of modern passenger cars. Atmos Environ 151:62–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Zhang G-S, Li T-T, Luo M, Liu J-F, Liu Z-R, Bai Y-H (2008) Air pollution in the microenvironment of parked new cars. Build Environ 43:315–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nanjing University & Yancheng Academy of Environmental Protection Technology and EngineeringYanchengChina
  2. 2.Institute of Water Environmental EngineeringJiangsu Industrial Technology Research InstituteYanchengChina
  3. 3.School of Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of JinanJinanChina

Personalised recommendations