A Review of Volatile Organic Compound Contamination in Post-Industrial Urban Centers: Reproductive Health Implications Using a Detroit Lens

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 25;17(23):8755. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238755.


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of aromatic or chlorinated organic chemicals commonly found in manufactured products that have high vapor pressure, and thus vaporize readily at room temperature. While airshed VOCs are well studied and have provided insights into public health issues, we suggest that belowground VOCs and the related vapor intrusion process could be equally or even more relevant to public health. The persistence, movement, remediation, and human health implications of subsurface VOCs in urban landscapes remain relatively understudied despite evidence of widespread contamination. This review explores the state of the science of subsurface movement and remediation of VOCs through groundwater and soils, the linkages between these poorly understood contaminant exposure pathways and health outcomes based on research in various animal models, and describes the role of these contaminants in human health, focusing on birth outcomes, notably low birth weight and preterm birth. Finally, this review provides recommendations for future research to address knowledge gaps that are essential for not only tackling health disparities and environmental injustice in post-industrial cities, but also protecting and preserving critical freshwater resources.

Keywords: adverse birth outcomes; health disparities; remediation; urban; vapor intrusion; volatile organic compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cities
  • Environmental Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Groundwater* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Michigan
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth
  • Reproductive Health* / statistics & numerical data
  • Soil Pollutants* / analysis
  • Volatile Organic Compounds* / adverse effects


  • Soil Pollutants
  • Volatile Organic Compounds