Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 20, 2018

An overview of health hazards of volatile organic compounds regulated as indoor air pollutants

  • Wen-Tien Tsai EMAIL logo


Indoor air quality (IAQ) standards and guidelines for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been stipulated by various national and international agencies. The main purpose of this paper is to establish an overview of indoor VOCs regarding their impacts on human health. Herein, 13 VOCs were designated as indoor air pollutants (IAPs) in the IAQ standards and guidelines. They were further grouped into four types: nonchlorinated aromatic compounds, chlorinated aromatic compounds, chlorinated aliphatic compounds and aldehydes. For this purpose, the present study discusses the criteria for designating VOCs, and summarizes their main sources in indoor environments. Because the occupational exposure limit (OEL) in workplaces has often used as a preliminary basis for establishing acceptable health-based IAQ guidelines in buildings and residences, this paper thus reviews the OEL values, especially in the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH)-threshold limit value (TLV). In addition, this paper also reviews the information about the classification of carcinogenicity in human by the international agencies for these VOCs. It shows that human tissues, including kidney, liver, leukemia, nasal cavity, paranasal sinus, liver and bile duct, could be more involved in the development of cancers or tumors when people are exposed to these VOCs through inhalation route in buildings over a long period of time.

  1. Research funding: Authors state no funding involved.

  2. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest.

  3. Informed consent: Informed consent is not applicable.

  4. Ethical approval: The conducted research is not related to either human or animal use.


1. Godish T, Davis WT, Fu JS. Air quality, 5th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2015.10.1201/b17341Search in Google Scholar

2. Jones AP. Indoor air quality and health. Atmos Environ 1999;33:4535–64.10.1016/S1352-2310(99)00272-1Search in Google Scholar

3. Sundell J. On the history of indoor air quality and health. Indoor Air 2004;14(Suppl. 7):51–8.10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00273.xSearch in Google Scholar PubMed

4. Brandys RC, Brandys GM. International indoor air quality standards and guidelines for over 2000 chemicals and biological substances. Las Vegas, NV: OEHCS Publications, 2010.Search in Google Scholar

5. Abdul-Wahab SA, En SC, Elkamel A, Ahmadi L, Yetilmezsoy K. A review of standards and guidelines set by international bodies for the parameters of indoor air quality. Atmos Pollut Res 2015;6:751–67.10.5094/APR.2015.084Search in Google Scholar

6. Luengas A, Barona A, Hort C, Gallastegui G, Platel V, Elias A. A review of indoor air treatment technologies. Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol 2015;14:499–522.10.1007/s11157-015-9363-9Search in Google Scholar

7. Allen JG, MacNaughton P, Cedeno-Laurent JG, Flanigan SS, Eitland ES, Spengler JD. Green buildings and health. Curr Environ Health Rep 2015;2:250–8.10.1007/s40572-015-0063-ySearch in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

8. Rovira J, Roig N, Nadal M, Schuhmacher M, Domingo JL. Human health risks of formaldehyde indoor levels: an issue of concern. J Environ Sci Health A 2016;51:357–63.10.1080/10934529.2015.1109411Search in Google Scholar PubMed

9. Brown SK. Occurring of volatile organic compounds in indoor air. In: Salthammer T, editor. Organic indoor air pollutants, Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH, 1999:171–84.Search in Google Scholar

10. Choo CP, Jalaludin J. An overview of indoor air quality and its impact on respiratory health among Malaysian school-aged children. Rev Environ Health 2015;30:9–18.10.1515/reveh-2014-0065Search in Google Scholar PubMed

11. Nakaoka H, Todaka E, Seto H, Saito I, Hanazato M, Watanabe M, et al. Correlating the symptoms of sick-building syndrome to indoor VOCs concentration levels and odour. Indoor Built Environ 2004;23:804–13.10.1177/1420326X13500975Search in Google Scholar

12. Rascu A, Moise L, Naghi E, Deleanu OC, Arghir OC. Sick building syndrome – a reality and a challenge for physicians. J Environ Prot Ecol 2015;16:1132–41.Search in Google Scholar

13. World Health Organization (WHO). WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: selected pollutants. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2010.Search in Google Scholar

14. Rumchev K, Brown H, Spickett J. Volatile organic compounds: do they present a risk to our health? Rev Environ Health 2007;22:39–56.10.1515/REVEH.2007.22.1.39Search in Google Scholar

15. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. IARC Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 27 Apr 2018.Search in Google Scholar

16. Wolkoff P, Nielsen GD. Organic compounds in indoor air – their relevance for perceived indoor air quality? Atmos Environ 2001;35:4407–17.10.1016/S1352-2310(01)00244-8Search in Google Scholar

17. Srivastava A, Joseph AE, Wachasunder SD. Qualitative detection of volatile organic compounds in outdoor and indoor air. Environ Monit Assess 2004;96:263–71.10.1023/B:EMAS.0000031732.68465.afSearch in Google Scholar

18. Sclink U, Thiem A, Kohajda T, Richter M, Strebel K. Quantile regression of indoor air concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC). Sci Total Environ 2009;408:3840–51.10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.12.002Search in Google Scholar

19. Zhu J, Wong SL, Cakmak S. Nationally representative levels of selected volatile organic compounds in Canadian residential indoor air: population-based survey. Environ Sci Technol 2013;47:13276–83.10.1021/es403055eSearch in Google Scholar

20. Paciencia I, Madureira J, Rudo J, Moreira A, Fernandes Ede O. A systematic review of evidence and implications of spatial and seasonal variations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in indoor human environments. J Toxicol Environ Health B 2016;19:47–64.10.1080/10937404.2015.1134371Search in Google Scholar

21. Meciarova L, Vilcekova S, Burdova EK, Kiselak J. Factors effecting the total volatile organic compound (TVOC) concentrations in Slovak households. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2017;14:1443.10.3390/ijerph14121443Search in Google Scholar

22. Brown SK, Sim MR, Abramson MJ, Gray CN. Concentrations of volatile organic compounds in indoor air – a review. Indoor Air 1994;4:123–34.10.1111/j.1600-0668.1994.t01-2-00007.xSearch in Google Scholar

23. Aggazzotti G, Fantuzzi G, Predieri G, Righi E, Moscardelli S. Indoor exposure to perchloroethylene (PCE) in individuals living with dry-cleaning workers. Sci Total Environ 1994;156:133–7.10.1016/0048-9697(94)90349-2Search in Google Scholar

24. Mandin C, Trantallidi M, Cattaneo A, Canha N, Mihucz VG, Szigeti T, et al. Assessment of indoor air quality in office buildings across Europe – The OFFICAIR study. Sci Total Environ 2017;579:169–78.10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.10.238Search in Google Scholar PubMed

25. Waring MS. Secondary organic aerosol formation by limonene ozonolysis: parameterizing multi-generational chemistry in ozone- and residence time-limited indoor environments. Atmos Environ 2016;144:79–86.10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.08.051Search in Google Scholar

26. Kim JH, Lee JJ. Management changes of hazardous air pollutants sources and its proposed improvement in Korea (in Korean). J Korean Soc Atmos Environ 2013;9:536–44.10.5572/KOSAE.2013.29.5.536Search in Google Scholar

27. Tsai WT. Toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmospheric environment: regulatory aspects and monitoring in Japan and Korea. Environments 2016. Available at: Accessed: Aug 2018.10.3390/environments3030023Search in Google Scholar

28. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Initial list of hazardous air pollutants with modification. Available at: Accessed: Jan 2017.Search in Google Scholar

29. Ministry of the Environment (MOE). Annual report on environmental statistics 2016. MOE Web; 2017. Available at: Accessed: 29 Apr 2018.Search in Google Scholar

30. Rosch C, Kohajda T, Roder S, von Bergen M, Schlink U. Relationship between sources and patterns of VOCs in indoor air. Atmos Pollut Res 2014;5:129–37.10.5094/APR.2014.016Search in Google Scholar

31. Duan H, Liu X, Yan M, Wu Y, Liu Z. Characteristics of carbonyls and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in residences in Beijing, China. Front Environ Sci Eng 2016;10:73–84.10.1007/s11783-014-0743-0Search in Google Scholar

32. Wolkoff P. Indoor air pollutants in office environments: assessment of comfort, health, and performance. Int J Hyg Environ Health 2013;216:371–94.10.1016/j.ijheh.2012.08.001Search in Google Scholar PubMed

33. Salthammer T, Mentese S, Marutzky R. Formaldehyde in the indoor environment. Chem Rev 2010;14:2536–72.10.1021/cr800399gSearch in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

34. Golden R. Identifying an indoor air exposure limit for formaldehyde considering both irritation and cancer hazards. Crit Rev Toxicol 2011;41:672–721.10.3109/10408444.2011.573467Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

35. Noguchi M, Mizukoshi A, Yanagisawa Y, Yamasaki A. Measurements of volatile organic compounds in a newly built daycare center. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2016;13:736–49.10.3390/ijerph13070736Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

36. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). 2017 TLVs and BEIs: based on the documentation of the threshold limit values for chemical substances and physical agent. Cincinnati, USA: ACGIH, 2017.Search in Google Scholar

37. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Establishment of MAK values. DFG Web. Available at: Accessed: 29 Apr 2018.Search in Google Scholar

38. Japan Society for Occupational Health (JSOH). Recommendation of occupational exposure limits. JSOH Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 6 Jan 2018.Search in Google Scholar

39. Ministry of Employment and Labor (MOEL). The occupational exposure limits for chemical and physical agents. MOEL Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 6 Jan 2018.Search in Google Scholar

40. Ministry of Labor (MOL). Standards of permissible exposure limits of airborne hazardous substances in workplace. MOL Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 6 Jan 2018.Search in Google Scholar

41. US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Permissible exposure limits – annotated tables. OSHA Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 6 Jan 2018.Search in Google Scholar

42. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 14th Reports on Carcinogens. DHHS Web; 2018. Available at: Accessed: 6 Jan 2018.Search in Google Scholar

43. Nielsen GD, Larsen ST, Wolkoff P. Re-evaluation of the WHO (2010) formaldehyde indoor air quality guideline for cancer risk assessment. Arch Toxicol 2017;91:35–61.10.1007/s00204-016-1733-8Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

Received: 2018-08-02
Accepted: 2018-10-28
Published Online: 2018-12-20
Published in Print: 2019-03-26

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 26.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button