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Background: Exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has been associated with many health disorders. A better understanding of unequal health risk from exposure to environmental VOCs is critical to the elimination of health disparities.

Objective: The goal of this study was to investigate racial/ethnic differentials in exposure to airborne VOCs within a national sample of the U.S. population and assessed socio-demographic determinants that may contribute to these racial differences.

Methods: We used data from a stratified sample of 576 participants (aged 20–59 years) who provided personal air samples for VOC measurements in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1999–2000. We used Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and multiple regression models for statistical analyses.

Results: Compared to the exposure of the majority populations in the United States, a disproportionate burden of exposure to airborne VOCs fell on minority populations: The levels of total VOC exposure were 52% and 37% higher in Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic blacks, respectively, than in non-Hispanic whites after adjusting for socioeconomic and other covariates (p< 0.001). Socio-demographic and lifestyle factors, including education, tobacco exposure, presence or absence of a window for ventilation inside the home, and gasoline use/storage, also affected levels of personal exposure to VOCs.

Discussion and Conclusion: This research study demonstrates that race/ethnicity is associated with VOC exposure independent of socioeconomic and other demographic factors. To help promote public health for communities and individuals, further efforts should be made to investigate underlying causes of racial/ethnic disparities in exposure to environmental VOCs.


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