Ethnicity, housing and personal factors as determinants of VOC exposures


Previous studies investigating effects of personal, demographic, housing and other factors on exposures to volatile organic compounds (VOC) have focused on mean or median exposures, and generally not the high exposures that are of great interest. This paper identifies determinants of personal VOC exposures on a quantile-specific basis using a nationally representative sample. The NHANES 1999-2000 VOC dataset was merged with personal, demographic, housing, smoking and occupation variables. Bivariate analyses tested for differences in geometric means and quantiles across levels of potential exposure determinants. Multivariate sample-weighted ordinary least-squares (OLS) and quantile regression (QR) models were then used to adjust for covariates. We identify a number of exposure determinants, most of which varied by exposure quantile. The most striking finding was the much higher exposures experienced by Hispanics and Blacks for aromatic VOCs (BTEX: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes), methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), and 1,4-dichlorobenzene (DCB). Exposure to gasoline, paints or glues, and having a machine-related occupation also were associated with extremely high BTEX and MTBE exposures. Additional determinants included the presence of attached garages and open windows, which affected exposures of BTEX (especially at lower quantiles) and MTBE (especially at higher quantiles). Smoking also increased BTEX exposures. DCB was associated with air freshener use, and PERC with dry-cleaned clothing. After adjusting for demographic, personal and housing factors, age and gender were not significant predictors of exposure. The use of QR in conjunction with OLS yields a more complete picture of exposure determinants, and identifies subpopulations and heterogeneous exposure groups in which some individuals experience very elevated exposures and which are not well represented by changes in the mean. The high exposures of Hispanics and Blacks are perplexing and disturbing, and they warrant further investigation. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Atmospheric Environment