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British Journal of Sports Medicine

Year: 2010  |  Volume: 44  |  Issue: 10  |  Page No.: 731 - 735

Volatile organic compounds in runners near a roadway: increased blood levels after short-duration exercise

C Blair, J Walls, N. W Davies and G. A. Jacobson



To determine if non-elite athletes undertaking short duration running exercise adjacent to a busy roadway experience increased blood levels of common pollutant volatile organic compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX)).

Design and setting

The study was observational in design. Participants (nine males/one female non-elite athletes) ran for 20 min, near a busy roadway along a 100 m defined course at their own pace. Blood levels of BTEX were determined both pre- and post-exercise by SPME-GC-MS. Environmental BTEX levels were determined by passive adsorption samplers.


Subjects completed a mean (range) distance of 4.4 (3.4 to 5.2) km over 20 min (4.5 (3.8 to 5.9) min/km pace), with a mean (SD) exercise intensity of 93 (2.3)% HRmax, and mean (SD) ventilation significantly elevated compared with resting levels (86.2 (2.3) vs 8.7 (0.9) l/min; p<0.001). The mean (SD) environmental levels (time weighted average) were determined as 53.1 (4.2), 428 (83), and 80.0 (3.7) µg/m3 for toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, respectively, while benzene was below the detectable limit due to the short exposure period. Significant increases in blood BTEX levels were observed in runners between pre- and postexercise for toluene (mean increase of 1.4 ng/ml; p=0.002), ethylbenzene (0.7 ng/ml; p=0.0003), m/p-xylene (2.0 ng/ml; p=0.004) and o-xylene (1.1 ng/ml; p=0.002), but no change was observed for benzene.


Blood BTEX levels are increased during high-intensity exercise such as running undertaken in areas with BTEX pollution, even with a short duration of exercise. This may have health implications for runners who regularly exercise near roadways.

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