The growing importance of indoor chemical emissions
Monday, 19 February 2018 at 10:06:AM
In the news last week there were eye-catching reports that consumer and industrial products have now overtaken transport fumes as a source of urban air pollution from petrochemical products.
Volatile chemical products
This investigation, which has appeared in the journal Science, draws on statistics regarding use
of fossil fuels for transport, together with studies of outdoor & indoor
air pollution, and incorporates these into models that shed light on the
relative contributions from various sources. These include what the authors
refer to as ‘volatile chemical products’ derived from petrochemical sources –
which include pesticides, coatings, printing inks, adhesives, cleaning agents and
personal care products.
Indoor air quality
Emissions from products used indoors have been under study
for many years – a task that both our own application chemists and our customers have been involved with – but they rarely seem to get the attention of the mainstream media. Perhaps
that’s because the focus in these studies tends to be on trace-level quantities
of less volatile compounds with probable but unclear roles as allergens or
endocrine disruptors. Such studies tend to surface in the mainstream media as
over-simplified scare stories (the ‘your air freshener causes cancer’ style of article), which perhaps limits how seriously this issue is taken by
politicians and legislators.
As the cause–effect relationships of such chemicals becomes
clearer, maybe that will change, but in the meantime, this study has done a
useful service. That’s not because it paints a complete picture of air
pollution – far from it. (Indeed, some key sources of VOCs are excluded – notably
the burning of wood or fossil fuels for heating, as well as volatile chemicals
from non-petrochemical sources such as essential oils).
However, by drawing together the ‘environmental’ and
‘consumer products’ aspects of air quality, it does highlight the notion of
taking emissions from products used indoors as seriously as emissions from vehicles
– and that’s got to be a good thing.
Air monitoring applications
Of course, to those involved in air monitoring such as
ourselves, none of this is particularly surprising – it’s just another outcome
from all that work we do in optimising methods to measure these chemicals. If you’re
interested in that aspect, our Application Guides on Environmental monitoring and Consumer environmental health are a good starting point.
David Barden received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cambridge University in 2004, and during his time as an editor at the RSC wrote news pieces for Chemistry World on various scientific topics. He is now Technical Copywriter at Markes International, where he draws on the expertise of his colleagues to explain how new thermal desorption and mass spectrometry technologies can be applied to analyse volatile organic compounds in a wide variety of situations.