Volatile Organic Molecules (VOC)


  • India can slash emissions of volatile organic molecules (VOC) by 76 per cent in the next eight years by swapping all two- and three-wheelers with electric vehicles and all diesel-fuelled ones with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), a new study has predicted.

About Volatile Organic Molecules (VOC)

  • Volatile Organic Molecules are carbon-containing chemicals released by petrol and diesel vehicles. They impact air quality and human health.
  • However, VOCs can have a natural origin, too. Plants emit these chemicals to attract pollinators, defend themselves from pests and predators and adapt to environmental stress.

    Volatile Organic Molecules
    Photo: iStock
  • Human-made VOCs are a cause for concern, yet they don’t draw enough attention.
  • India does not have a national-level monitoring programme for VOCs.
  • Benzene, a chemical that induces cancer, is the only VOC included in the ambient air-quality standards.
  • The other pollutants considered are Particulate Matter10 (PM10), Particulate Matter2.5 (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, ammonia, lead, nickel and benzo(a)pyrene.
  • VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, damage body organs and cause cancer.
  • Long-term exposure to VOCs is not good because the majority of the VOCs are carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
  • VOCs can drive the formation of other dangerous pollutants. For instance, they react with sunlight and nitrogen dioxide to form ground-level ozone.
  • Ground-level ozone is a harmful pollutant that triggers health problems such as cough, difficulty breathing and increases the risk of infections. This pollutant can also aggravate asthma.
  • VOCs also trigger the formation of PM2.5, a pollutant that reaches deep into the lungs, affecting their normal functioning. It is also linked to medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
  • They react in the air to produce secondary organic aerosols, minute particles suspended in the air. The aerosols, in turn, form a large chunk of PM 2.5.
  • Non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC) are VOCs minus methane, a greenhouse gas.
  • Emissions of other pollutants — carbon monoxide, PM2.5, toxic volatile organic compounds, BTEX (Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) — might drop by 80 per cent, 44 per cent, 76 per cent and 93 per cent, respectively.

Key Challenges

  • China, Europe and the United States account for around 90 per cent of electric car sales. India’s electric cars’ share was less than one per cent of overall sales.
  • adopting e-mobility is unlikely to overwhelm the electricity sector.
  • Gases escaping out of a vehicle’s exhaust account for 65-80 per cent of an automobile’s emissions.
  • India is home to 14 out of the top 20 most polluted cities globally.
  • Around 1.67 million deaths were linked to air pollution in 2019. The country lost 1.36 per cent of its gross domestic product the same year.
  • Black carbon — a sooty black material coming from gas and diesel-powered vehicles — by 50 per cent. Black carbon is linked to health problems such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and congenital disabilities. It also contributes to climate change.

Way Forward

  • Adopting electric vehicles can help India achieve a cleaner future.
  • We should monitor and take action to control VOC emission.
  • A national level programme for monitoring of VOC emission is the need of the hour.
  • Replacing all diesel-fuelled vehicles with CNG-fuelled ones. Though ambitious, this intervention could be India’s best bet for cleaner air.

Source: DTE

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