Air pollution involves the introduction of particulate matter, chemicals or biological materials capable of causing discomfort or harm to human beings and other living organisms; or those that can damage the natural or built environments, into the atmosphere . Air pollutants can be in form of liquid droplets, solid particles or gases (Miller and Scott 2007). Volatile Organic Components are major outdoor air pollutants. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) is the organic chemicals with high levels of vapor pressure while at room-temperature conditions. This high vapor is as a result of a low boiling point. The low boiling point causes evaporation or sublimation of large numbers of molecules from the solid or liquid form of the compound and, therefore, enters in the surrounding air. Miller and Spoolman (2007) says that Formaldehyde is a good example of such; with a boiling point of -19 degrees Celsius (-2 degrees Farenheit). It slowly exits paint and gets into the air. This paper discusses the effects of VOCs on the environmental pollution. The paper will also state policies that exist to ensure that the emission of VOCs minimizes.
Automobiles are the most common means of transport in the world today. People are spending considerably long time on the road that ever before. This is due to road traffic or other roadway delays that always result in taking more time on shorter distances. Research shows that Americans spend more time inside their cars than any other means of transport. According to research by Kimbrell (2000), in 1995, people travelled more than 2.8 trillion miles by automobile. This figure was up by half a trillion miles witnessed five years earlier, and almost double the distance travelled in 1965 (Kimbrell 2000). Though most people realize the risks associated with using automobiles such as drunk drivers, speeding and road rage, very few are concerned or even aware of the health effects of air quality inside their cars and the surrounding environment. Ozone is the gas that appears in two layers of the atmosphere, stratosphere and troposphere. The ‘good’ ozone layer (the stratospheric) extends upward at about ten to thirty miles above the earth. This ozone layer protects life on the earth from dangerous ultraviolet rays. On the other hand, the troposphere-which extends just ten miles above the earth surface is known as the ground level ‘bad’ ozone. Being at the ground level, it means that it is an air pollutant with the potential of causing damages to human health, the vegetation, a lot of common materials and a key contributor of smog.
Volatile Organic Compounds are a major contributor of the ground level pollution. They are widely used in a broad range of products for use in every-day life. In the automobiles, VOCs are used in products such as paint, fuel, degreasing products cleaning and disinfecting products. The automobiles, commercial, industrial and electric utilities that burn fuels are the primary sources of nitrogen oxide gases-highly reactive gases that when mixed with VOCs and sunlight forms the Ozone.
Effects of Volatile Organic Compounds
Though VOCs are not acutely toxic, they have compounding long term health effects. Research into Volatile Organic Compounds and their effects proves difficult because their concentrations are usually low and their symptoms are slow to develop.
Stratospheric ozone depletion
There are many organic compounds that are stable enough to stay in the atmosphere, survive the removal process by the troposphere and reach the stratosphere. However, if they contain bromine or chlorine substituents stratospheric photolysis and the hydroxyl radical destruction processes may cause the active destroying chain carriers of the ozone to be released. Further, it may stimulate the depletion of stratospheric ozone layer and formation of the Antarctic ozone ‘hole’.(Hester& Harrison 1995 ).
Ground level photochemical ozone formation
VOCs, as well as other organic compounds are key ingredients of ground level photochemical oxidant formation. This is because they act as controllers of the oxidant production rate in areas where nitrogen oxides levels are enough to maintain ozone production. Hydrocarbons are those organic compounds that contribute in the photochemical production of the ozone (Hester & Harrison 1995).
Additionally, ground level ozone is a concern to the human health and also has effects on plants, crops and trees. According to the Geneva Protocol as quoted by Hester and Harrison (1995), increased concentrations of the ozone during summertime photochemical pollution instances might exceed the environmental criteria that is set to protect natural ecosystems and human health. These are concerns that led to the Geneva Protocol formulation which greatly support reduction in emissions and stipulates control actions. The depletion of ozone causes eye and skin cancer, cataracts, sunburns, and damage to the immune system.
Toxic and Carcinogenic human health effects
VOCs can have great impacts on the human health through both the direct mechanism and indirect impacts resulting from photochemical ozone formation. There are some organic compounds that will affect humans’ senses by their odour; others induce narcotic effects while there are certain species that are toxic. In addition, some organic compounds are carcinogenic; may introduce cancer to the human population (Hester and Harrison 2007). These compounds are termed as ‘air toxics’. Their control is, at present, a concern nationally and internationally; which involves many international forums. There is a wide range of chemicals that are coming under scrutiny in for this purpose. The most crucial compounds belonging to the air toxic category and distributed in the atmosphere include: benzene which has the potential of inducing leukemia; formaldehyde, a nasal carcinogen, polychlorinated biphenyl compounds (PCBs); polynuclear aromatic carbons-potential for lung cancer (Miller and Spoolman 2007).
Enhancing the global Green house effect
Almost all the Volatile organic emissions emitted from human activities result in the atmospheric boundary layer-this is a shallow region belonging to the troposphere and next to the earth’s surface (Hester & Harrison 1995). While most of them are rapidly oxidized in this layer, some may survive and proceed into the troposphere during events such as convection, passage of fronts and air masses over the mountains. Moreover, other long-lived compounds accumulate in the troposphere. If any of these is capable of absorbing terrestrial or solar infrared radiation, then it may enhance the greenhouse effect.
Accumulation and persistence in the environment
Some organic compounds with higher molecular mass persist enough survive the oxidation and removal processes on the boundary layer. They may move over long distances if while still in the rain. According to Hester and Harrison, (1995) the semi-volatile Volatile Organic compounds are a good example of this. They tend to sink permanently in cold environments of the polar regions. Their biological accumulation in such sensitive environs may cause human foodstuffs to reach toxic levels in areas very remote from where the original emission occurred.
Smog is a brownish-yellow haze that can be seen blanketing the horizon sometimes in warmer months. Though it is made up of many contaminants, the main component of smog is the ground-level ozone. Volatile Organic Compounds are an important ingredient in the formation of the ozone. On human health, Miller and Spoolman (2007) indicate that smog can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Some may cough and experience difficulties in breathing. These symptoms will, however, disappear with time but if one is repeatedly exposed, the damage continues deeper inside his/her lungs. On the vegetation, ozone damages forests and crops intensely as well. The ozone attacks the plants’ foliage thereby reducing the crops’ growth and yield. For instance, some environments in Canada have experienced losses worth millions of dollars in agriculture from destruction by the ozone (Matinoba 1995).
Programs put in place to minimize VOC releases.
The Volatile Organic Compounds emissions have been a concern to many including governments, environmental organizations and researchers. The EPA has played a role in reducing the air toxic pollutions.This is due to the steps it has taken in the race to reducing toxic air pollutants such as: reducing toxic emissions from industries; from vehicles through cleaner burning gasoline and stringent emission standards as well as addressing the issue of indoor air pollution by conducting voluntary programs. According to the U.S. EPA (2002), it had issued ninety six air toxic regulations touching on 174 categories of leading industrial sources such as oil refineries, chemical plants, steel mills and aerospace manufacturers. It also issued automobile and fuel emission control programs that have so far reduced air toxics. Most of these programs were established to primarily reduce the ozone through VOC.
Policies touching on the architectural industries have also helped in reducing the emissions. In Canada, new regulations were put in place in 2009 to reduce the architectural coating products, for instance, coating agents, dyes, paint, varnish VOC emissions. Architectural coating is a product that is applied onto a substrate used on traffic surfaces including; highways and streets, curbs, berms, parking lots, sideways, stationary structures and airport runways. This action aimed at protecting Canadian national health and that of the environment (UN 2007).
To reduce the VOC emissions resulting from the use of petrol, policies have been implemented to reduce emissions. Also changes are made in the components used to manufacture fuels. Canadian federal regulations of 1997 ensures that light duty vehicles and trucks are designed in a way that they will limit hydrocarbon emissions while refueling. A national regulation of the year 2000was adopted to limit the flow rate of dispensing petrol to a38 litres per minute maximum. There were, also, regulations to effectively limit benzene contained in gasoline to one percent volume since 1999 (UN 2007).
In California, under the U.S Clean Air Act, all states must meet the federal air proved by the federal government. In California’s SIP is required to track and also control volatile Organic compounds emissions from the pesticides products that are used in agriculture and commercial structure applicators in 5 non-attainment areas(NAAS) The ARB is responsible for VOCs emissions from the pesticides in consumer products. This is policy was aimed at reducing smog-producing emissions that resulted from field fumigants (UN 2007).
According to Biermann (2010), there are also global city partnerships, for example, the C40 network which aims at curbing the cities’ greenhouse emissions. It is an intergovernmental policy that possesses the potential of improving urban air quality by learning best practices and in consequence, mitigate organic gases emissions in an independent way; from national government.
The automobile industry needs careful consideration in the future. It is clear that this industry is one of the most pollutant in the environment. The processes performed in automobile refinishing today are surface preparation, application of primer, applying the top coat and lastly spraying the equipment for clean up. During these steps, organic solvent evaporation occurs thus, causing the emission of VOCs. VOCs in motor vehicles in use can be produced by paint, cleaning agents and the fuel used. Therefore, the automobile has both inside and outside air pollution, whereas the outside seems less. Policies should be put to limit the emissions caused by motor vehicles and other equipments that involve the use of fuel.To reduce the VOC from vehicles, effort should be made to reduce its content of the coatings; employ equipment modifications for improved transfer efficiency and reduced coating usage and engage in work practice modifications, for instance, solvent recycling so as to reduce emissions from solvents during clean up operations. Regulations such as have been put in place to reduce these emissions.
Environmental Protection Agency has previously proposed and instituted a new and more restrictive basic ozone standard that is under the National Ambient Air Quality Standard Program (NAAQSP), whose contribution is of great immense by regulating air pollutants that EPA deems unhealthy (EPA 2011). Ozone is a combination of many regulated pollutants, for instance nitrogen oxides and the volatile organic and non organic compounds. As a major program put in place intended to reduce ozone levels, organizations and area violating the new standards will have to reduce their emissions from sources that emit compounds of ozone, for instance, industrial machines, vehicles and electric utilities.
Among other programs put in place include, inspection and maintenance programs which have been established in pollution rampant areas. This process requires that passenger vehicles to undergo periodic testing in order to ensure that malfunctioning emission control systems are in place. For instance in the USA, the congress normally and periodically amends the clean Air Act that will require further declines in hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and possible particulate emissions (Weather Explained). This program’s amendments also introduce lower tailpipe standards. This are more advanced testing procedures. On the same note, new vehicle technologies and clean fuels programs have been instituted to regulate carbon emissions from them. Besides, new and clean fuels programs have been instituted that ensures a controlled transportation management provisions. The 1990 amendments for instance provides powers for EPA, to guarantees specific authority to regulate emissions from the non -road vehicles and modes of transport.
Disasters proposed by the government in a good number of industrial countries are intended to protect the quality of air. An example to this is the year of London tragedy, when the United States of America passed the Air Pollution Control Act that was directed to assist all the states in the process of controlling airborne pollutants. A stringent program, in 1963 the Clean Air Act began to place the authority for air quality into the hands of federal government. This far the Clean Air Act, with its 197- and 1990 amendments, have remained the principal air quality law among the United States of America (Encyclopedia 2010)
The 1970 Clean Air Act and serious amendments that followed the establishment of Act of 1977 and 1990, have served and acted as the pillar program to regulate the amount of pollution in the USA. The introduction of this law ensured one of the most complex regulatory programs in the country. According to history, efforts to control air pollution in the U. S.A. dates back to the year 1881, a period when Chicago and Cincinnati passed laws to control smoke and soot from the factories of the city (Weather Explained). This resulted to other municipalities take soot and the momentum gained the ground. In the year 1952, Oregon was the first state to have adopted a significant program to regulate the cause of air pollution. The federal government, three year later became involved for the very first time in history, a time when the Control Act was passed. This law gave the provisions to grant funds to assist the states in their air pollution control activities.
There has been a new program that has been instituted whose unprecedented cooperation between EPA and USDA will go a long way to find a way to assist producers in meeting their own and society goals for the sake of environmental quality and profitability. This program aims at providing assistance by conducting an incentive-based approach to combine information and education, research and field extension, technology transfer, financial assistance and technical assistance, based on Environmental Quality Incentive Program and farm bill programs.
Are these programs justified?
Avnet discovered the association between volatile organic compounds and financials. It did this by combining their customer feedback with it is operational and financial data to evaluate it is relationship between customer perception and behaviors. It found out that perceptions and preference do actually equate to financial gains. This provided additional justification for the executives to protect the environment against pollution.
In the present, Air Quality methodologies have increasingly become more refined over the years to occupy the gap in the transportation industry and satisfy various requirements which include transportation conformity and various Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program justification. A number of off-model methods continue to be developed and refined to enable grounds for innovativeness and some projects to account for reductions in the vehicle emissions. In this case, the most typical analysis is associated with vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) reductions but reductions in emissions are likely to occur due to decreases in vehicular delay.
There has also been a”Transportation Conformity Analyses and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program project justifications” (FHWA)
Are they enough?
They are not enough because these proposed programs only intend to regulate. Regulation is fair but not a long term solution. Also, some of these programs aim at controlling, which paradoxically may allow for energy crisis. These proposals should rather address the alternatives to the use of energy services in substitute to the polluting ones. For instance, a comparison between ethane on a mass basis should strike the right balance between a threshold that is low enough to capture the compounds that significantly affect ozone concentration and threshold that is high enough to substitute some of those compounds that may be useful in return for highly reactive compounds. Lastly, new technologies should come up where gap exists or where existing technologies are insensitive to detect low level of chemical pollutions.