Petroleum based chemicals in consumer and industrial products are now a primary source of urban air pollution

As the transportation sector moves to cleaner fuels, a report led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned that volatile chemical products (VCP) derived from petroleum are turning into a primary source of air pollution in urban environments. The findings, which were published in the online journal Science, indicated that common consumer and industrial products are an underestimated source of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that cause toxic secondary organic aerosols (SOA).

  • Stringent regulations in the U.S. and Europe have greatly reduced VOC emissions associated with transportation. However, a gap in emission inventories that suggested either automobile VOC emissions are overestimated or there is another source of VOC pollution that is being underestimated.
  • The researchers developed a mass balance using energy and chemical production statistics as well as analysis of air samples taken near roadways and in laboratories. They used Los Angeles as a case study of a typical industrialized city.
  • The mass balance showed that VCP emissions make up half of the VOC emissions in urban environments. Analysis of urban outdoor air as well as indoor air confirmed this new ratio.
  • VCPs are petroleum-based products. They include everyday items such as adhesives, cleaning agents, coatings, pesticides, personal care products, and printing inks.
  • Current U.S. regulations on VCPs focus on those products that create ozone and air toxics. Unfortunately, many chemicals that create toxic SOA are exempted.

The study lauded the effectiveness of U.S. efforts in reducing automobile VOC emissions, but researchers now urge regulatory agencies to supervise VCPs and other sources of VOC pollution.

A full copy of the study can be found here.

Journal reference:

Mcdonald BC, Gouw JAD, Gilman JB, Jathar SH, Akherati A, Cappa CD, Jimenez JL, Lee-Taylor J, Hayes PL, Mckeen SA, et al. VOLATILE CHEMICAL PRODUCTS EMERGING AS LARGEST PETROCHEMICAL SOURCE OF URBAN ORGANIC EMISSIONS. 1 February 2018;359(6377):760–764. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0524.

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