Evaluating Health Risks of Volatile Organic Compounds in Various UK Environments: Insights from Health Indices


  • Rayne Holland

    School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

  • Molly Guy

    School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

  • M. Anwar. H. Khan

    School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

  • Dudley E. Shallcross

    School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock's Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK

    Department of Chemistry, University of the Western Cape, Robert Sobukwe Road, Bellville 7305, South Africa


Received: 25 March 2024; Revised: 15 April 2024; Accepted: 17 April 2024; Published Online: 26 April 2024


The health risks of twelve volatile organic compounds (VOCs) across three sites in the UK were analysed across an 11-year period (2013–2023) using US EPA proposed health indices; Inhalation Unit Risk (IUR) and Reference Concentration (RfC) for carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic risk, respectively. Significant decreases in carcinogenic risk were observed over the study period for 1, 3-butadiene, with reductions of 63%, 36%, and 45% at urban traffic, suburban background and rural background sites, respectively. Similar decreases in the carcinogenic risk associated with benzene (52%, 28% and 27%) and toluene (50%, 38% and 51%) are found for the three site types, respectively. However, the carcinogenic risk of these three pollutants still exceeds the acceptable threshold of 1 × 10-6 at the urban traffic and suburban background sites, necessitating further emission control strategies. Conversely, the carcinogenic risk associated with isoprene has increased at the urban traffic site over the study period. The study revealed a decrease of 51%, 39% and 37% of the total non-carcinogenic risk at all three sites over the study period. The seasonal variations in carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic health risks of pollutants with anthropogenic origin exhibit winter maxima and summer minima. Moreover, diurnal variations of pollutants with anthropogenic origin demonstrate a bimodal distribution reflecting that of traffic flow, e.g., peaks around 08:00 LT and 18:00 LT, corresponding with rush hours. This trend demonstrates the influence of traffic sources supported by the characteristic species ratio whereby Toluene/Benzene (T/B) ratios were less than two (0.72, and 0.42 at suburban and rural background sites, respectively), illustrating the influence of vehicular emissions. Despite following the same bimodal trend suggesting the dominance of vehicular emission sources, mean T/B ratios at urban traffic sites were consistently above 2 for all years considered (average 2.76) suggesting other VOC sources are becoming more dominant at this site.


Volatile organic compound, Health indices, Carcinogenic risk, Non-carcinogenic risk, Urban traffic site, Diurnal variation


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How to Cite

Holland, R., Guy, M., Anwar. H. Khan, M., & E. Shallcross, D. (2024). Evaluating Health Risks of Volatile Organic Compounds in Various UK Environments: Insights from Health Indices. Journal of Atmospheric Science Research, 7(2), 41–61. https://doi.org/10.30564/jasr.v7i2.6309


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