TOXICS INFORMATION PROJECT (TIP)
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(Sharing Information on Toxics in Everyday Life
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Week of Jan. 3, 2004;
Vol. 165, No. 1
My Own Private Bad-Air Day:
underrate pollutant exposure
A new study suggests that most people inhale substantially more organic contaminants, including cancer-causing benzene, than is indicated by standard environmental risk assessments based on outdoor measurements. "Ambient measurements at central sites aren't good predictors of [personal] exposure," says John Adgate of the
To monitor urban air quality, environmental agencies typically measure pollutant concentrations in samples collected at centralized outdoor locations and extrapolate individuals' average exposures from those measurements. That's a reasonable approach for studying ozone and other pollutants that form out-of-doors or that come almost exclusively from identifiable industrial sources.
But for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which arise from sources such as air fresheners, cleaning agents, and cigarette smoke, assessments of outdoor air quality misrepresent what's under people's noses, researchers now report. That's because many daily activities—including driving to work, visiting dry-cleaning shops, and sitting in smoky restaurants—put people in envelopes of air that are disproportionately laden with chemicals.
Adgate and his colleagues outfitted 71 nonsmoking volunteers in
Outdoor and indoor benzene concentrations have fallen in recent years, a result of declines in cigarette smoking and of regulations that permit less benzene in gasoline and consumer products, says Lance Wallace of the Environmental Protection Agency in
Among the VOCs that Adgate and his team studied were chloroform, a by-product of chlorination that's released from household water; d-limonene and a- and b-pinene, common deodorizing chemicals that produce scents of lemon and pine; para-dichlorobenzene, an air freshener and pesticide; and tetrachloroethylene, which emanates from dry-cleaned clothing. Median concentrations of these compounds in personal air ranged from about 3 times to nearly 60 times those found in outdoor air, the researchers report in an upcoming Environmental Science and Technology.
Fortunately, says Wallace, "it's easy . . . to do something about it." Excess personal exposure can be minimized by avoiding cigarette smoke, air fresheners, and long automobile commutes and by using cleaning agents and other chemicals only in well-ventilated areas.
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Sexton, K., J.L. Adgate, et al. In press. Comparison of personal,
indoor, and outdoor exposures to hazardous air pollutants in three
urban communities. Environmental Science and Technology.
John L. Adgate
Division of Environmental and Occupational Health
School of Public Health
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
11568 Woodhollow Court
Reston, VA 20191
Exposure Measurement and Assessment Division
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute
170 Frelinghuysen Road
Piscataway, NJ 08854
From Science News, Vol. 165, No. 1, Jan. 3, 2004, p. 4.
Copyright (c) 2004 Science Service. All rights reserved.
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