Small scale spatial gradients of outdoor and indoor benzene in proximity of an integrated steel plant

Sci Total Environ. 2016 May 15;553:524-531. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.071. Epub 2016 Feb 28.


Benzene is known as a human carcinogen, whose annual mean concentration exceeded the EU limit value (5 μg/m(3)) only in very few locations in Europe during 2012. Nevertheless 10% to 12% of the EU-28 urban population was still exposed to benzene concentrations above the WHO reference level of 1.7 μg/m(3). WHO recommended a wise choice of monitoring stations positioning in proximity of "hot spots" to define and assess the representativeness of each site paying attention to micro-scale conditions. In this context benzene and other VOCs of health concern (toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes) concentrations have been investigated, with weekly passive sampling for one year, both in outdoor and indoor air in inhabited buildings in close proximity (180 m far up to 1100 m) of an integrated steel plant in NE of Italy. Even though the outdoor mean annual benzene concentration was below the EU limit in every site, in the site closest to the works the benzene concentration was above 5 μg/m(3) in 14 weeks. These events were related to a benzene over toluene ratio above one, which is diagnostic for the presence of an industrial source, and to meteorological factors. These information pointed at the identification of the coke ovens of the plant as the dominant outdoor source of benzene. Benzene gradients with the increasing distance from coke ovens have been found for both outdoor and indoor air. Linear models linking outdoor to indoor benzene concentrations have been then identified, allowing to estimate indoor exposure from ambient air benzene data. In the considered period, a narrow area of about 250 m appeared impacted at a higher degree than the other sites both considering outdoor and indoor air. Passive BTEX sampling permits to collect information on both ambient air and daily life settings, allowing to assemble a valuable data support for further environmental cost-benefit analyses.

Keywords: Air pollution; BTEX passive sampler; Benzene; Coke oven batteries; Indoor air quality; Small scale spatial gradients.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / statistics & numerical data
  • Benzene / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Italy
  • Metallurgy
  • Steel


  • Air Pollutants
  • Steel
  • Benzene