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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


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David BardenDavid 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.


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