Risk assessment of exposure to volatile organic compounds in different indoor environments

Hai Guo, Shuncheng Lee, L. Y. Chan, W. M. Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

437 Citations (Scopus)


The lifetime cancer risks of exposure of cooks and food service workers, office workers, housewives, and schoolchildren in Hong Kong to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their respective indoor premises during normal indoor activities were assessed. The estimated cancer risk for housewives was the highest, and the second-highest lifetime cancer risk to VOC exposure was for the groups of food service and office workers. Within a certain group of the population, the lifetime cancer risk of the home living room was one to two orders of magnitude higher than that in other indoor environments. The estimated lifetime risks of food service workers were about two times that of office workers. Furthermore, the cancer risks of working in kitchen environments were approximately two times higher than the risks arising from studying in air-conditioned classrooms. The bus riders had higher average lifetime cancer risks than those travelling by Mass Transit Railway. For all target groups of people, the findings of this study show that the exposures to VOCs may lead to lifetime risks higher than 1×10-6. Seven indoor environments were selected for the measurement of human exposure and the estimation of the corresponding lifetime cancer risks. The lifetime risks with 8-h average daily exposures to individual VOCs in individual environments were compared. People in a smoking home had the highest cancer risk, while students in an air-conditioned classroom had the lowest risk of cancer. Benzene accounted for about or more than 40% of the lifetime cancer risks for each category of indoor environment. Nonsmoking and smoking residences in Hong Kong had cancer risks associated with 8-h exposures of benzene above 1.8×10-5and 8.0×10-5, respectively. The cancer risks associated with 1,1-dichloroethene, chloroform, methylene chloride, trichloroethene, and tetrachloroethene became more significant at selected homes and restaurants. Higher lifetime cancer risks due to exposure to styrene were only observed in the administrative and printing offices and air-conditioned classrooms. Higher lifetime cancer risks related to chloroform exposures were observed at the restaurant and the canteen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-66
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • Hong Kong
  • Indoor environments
  • Inhalation
  • Risk assessment
  • VOCs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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