Personal exposure to specific volatile organic compounds and acute changes in lung function and heart rate variability among urban cyclists

Environ Res. 2012 Oct;118:118-23. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 8.


Background: Few studies have examined the acute cardiorespiratory effects of specific volatile organic compound (VOC) exposures from traffic pollution.

Methods: A cross-over study was conducted among 42 healthy adults during summer 2010 in Ottawa, Canada. Participants cycled for 1-h along high and low-traffic routes and VOC exposures were determined along each route. Lung function, exhaled nitric oxide, and heart rate variability were monitored before cycling and 1-4h after the start of cycling. Bayesian hierarchical models were used to examine the relationship between 26 VOCs and acute changes in clinical outcomes adjusted for potential confounding factors.

Results: Each inter-quartile range (IQR) increase in propane/butane exposure was associated with a 2.0 millisecond (ms) (95% CI: 0.65, 3.2) increase in SDNN (standard deviation of normal-to-normal intervals), a 24 ms(2) (95% CI: 6.6, 41) increase in HF (high frequency power), and a 65 ms(2) (95% CI: 11, 118) increase in LF (low frequency power) in the hours following cycling. IQR increases in ethane and isoprene were associated with a 5.8 ms (95% CI: -9.8, -1.7): decrease in SDNN and a 24 ms(2) (95% CI: -44, -7.9) decrease in HF, respectively. IQR increases in benzene exposure were associated with a 1.7 ppb (95% CI: 1.1, 2.3) increase in exhaled nitric oxide and each IQR increase in 3-methylhexane exposure was associated with a 102 mL (95% CI: -157, -47) decrease in forced expiratory volume in 1-s.

Conclusions: Exposure to traffic-related VOCs may contribute to acute changes in lung function, inflammation, or heart rate variability.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Bicycling*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / physiology
  • Urban Population*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / toxicity*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Volatile Organic Compounds