Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds consist of a number of different chemicals including hydrocarbons (eg methane), which are released during the production, refining, storage and combustion of fossil fuels. The largest environmental risks of VOCs are due to the presence of benzene and 1,3-butadiene, which are both carcinogens and are easily inhaled due to their volatile nature. Other chemicals in this category are responsible for the production of tropospheric ozone, which is toxic even in low concentrations.
Methane is a significant greenhouse gas and is released during the drilling for oil and gas and during the combustion of petroleum products. Around 5% of methane emissions are due to the production and use of fuels used for road transport.
Tropospheric Ozone (O3)
In the stratosphere, ozone absorbs ultraviolet light, therefore reducing the number of harmful rays reaching living organisms at the Earth’s surface. However, at ground level (the troposphere), ozone is toxic to animals and plants. Ozone is thought to be responsible for aggravating human respiratory disease and is known to reduce crop yields.
While the concentration of stratospheric ozone is being depleted by the action of chlorofluorocarbons and other chemicals, exhaust emissions from road vehicles are increasing the concentration of ozone at ground level. Although there are a number of sources of man-made tropospheric ozone, transport is known to be a major contributor of emissions through the action of sunlight on emitted VOCs.