|Most research into the effects of residential indoor
air exposures on asthma and allergies has focused on exposures to biologic allergens, moisture and mold, endotoxin,
or combustion byproducts. A growing body of research from outside the U.S., however, suggests that chemical emissions
from common indoor materials and finishes have a variety of adverse effects, including increased risk of asthma,
allergies, and pulmonary infections The identified risk factors include specific organic compounds such as formaldehyde,
benzene, and phthalates, as well as indoor materials or finishes such as vinyl flooring, carpet, paint, and plastics.
This presentation presents a brief review of studies published on this topic in the scientific, peer-reviewed literature.
For selected compounds, it also compares reported risk levels to observed indoor concentrations. The review was
funded by the Indoor Environments Division, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, Office of Air and Radiation, of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Associations, some strong, were reported between many risk factors and respiratory or allergic effects in infants
or children. Reported odds ratios (ORs) ranged to high levels (even excluding ORs up to 22.3 related to changes
in T cell subpopulations): for formaldehyde, to 8.2; for aromatic chemicals, to 11.2; for aliphatic chemicals,
to 8.1; for plastics and plasticizers, to 3.4 (and with low ventilation, to 12.6); and for painting, to 5.6. Elevated
risks were also reported for renovation and cleaning activities, new furniture or particleboard, and carpets or
textile wallpaper. Risk factors identified most frequently included formaldehyde or particleboard, phthalates or
plastic materials, and recent painting. Findings for other risk factors, such as aromatic and aliphatic compounds,
were limited but suggestive. Various forms of bias are likely to have influenced all these studies, but seem unlikely
to explain the overall findings. The primary weakness of these studies is that the specific risk factors identified
(with the likely exception of formaldehyde) may be not directly causal factors, but indicators of other truly causal
factors associated with the same indoor materials or processes.
This body of literature, although entirely observational and of limited size and quality, overall suggests the
occurrence of adverse respiratory and allergic effects from at least some common indoor materials in residences,
including formaldehyde-emitting materials, flexible plastics, and painted surfaces. Findings are also consistent
with additional risks from other indoor materials that emit various chemical compounds. All these indoor materials
are nearly ubiquitous in modern homes, and their use seems likely to increase, leading to increased emissions.
Available findings thus suggest the possible large-scale occurrence, and future increase, of important yet preventable
adverse respiratory and allergic effects in infants and children worldwide, related to modern residential building
materials and coatings and exacerbated by decreased ventilation.
It is important to confirm or disprove these environmental risks, identify specific causal exposures, and quantify
any increased risks, in order to motivate and guide any necessary preventive actions. In particular, current findings
relating formaldehyde, plasticizers, and new paint to respiratory and allergic effects in infants and children
warrant substantially increased research and, especially for formaldehyde, consideration of preventive actions.
|Mark Mendell, Ph.D., is currently a Staff Scientist/Epidemiologist in the Indoor
Environment Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Dr. Mendell was formerly at the
Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, where he was head of the National
Occupational Research Agenda Team on Indoor Environments. Dr. Mendell is on the editorial board of the journal
Indoor Air and a member of the International Academy of Indoor Air Sciences. He holds a BA from Cornell University
in Science, Technology, and Society, a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of Oregon, and a
PhD in epidemiology from the University of California at Berkeley, School of Public Health. Dr. Mendell conducts
research in the field of environmental epidemiology, focused on health effects related to indoor environments in
buildings. His research interests include the causes and prevention of building-related symptoms (also called sick
building syndrome); health risks associated with buildings, ventilation systems, moisture, and microbial growth;
effects of indoor environments in schools on health and performance of students, and effects of indoor chemical
exposures in residences on asthma and allergies.
For more information on this
Seminar please contact Peter Mathews at (916) 323-8711 or send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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