Volatile Organic Compounds and Pulmonary Function in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994

By Elliott, Leslie; Longnecker, Matthew P. et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Volatile Organic Compounds and Pulmonary Function in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994


Elliott, Leslie, Longnecker, Matthew P., Kissling, Grace E., London, Stephanie J., Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present in much higher concentrations indoors, where people spend most of their time, than outdoors and may have adverse health effects. VOCs have been associated with respiratory symptoms, but few studies address objective respiratory end points such as pulmonary function. Blood levels of VOCs may be more indicative of personal exposures than are air concentrations; no studies have addressed their relationship with respiratory outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: We examined whether concentrations of 11 VOCs that were commonly identified in blood from a sample of the U.S. population were associated with pulmonary function.

METHODS: We used data from 953 adult participants (20-59 years of age) in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994) who had VOC blood measures as well as pulmonary function measures. Linear regression models were used to evaluate the relationship between 11 VOCs and measures of pulmonary function.

RESULTS: After adjustment for smoking, only 1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB) was associated with reduced pulmonary function. Participants in the highest decile of 1,4-DCB concentration had decrements of -153 mL [95% confidence interval (CI), -297 to -8] in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec and -346 mL/sec (95% CI, -667 to -24) in maximum mid-expiratory flow rate, compared with participants in the lowest decile.

CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to 1,4-DCB, a VOC related to the use of air fresheners, toilet bowl deodorants, and mothballs, at levels found in the U.S. general population, may result in reduced pulmonary function. This common exposure may have long-term adverse effects on respiratory health.

KEY WORDS: air fresheners, air pollution (indoor), deodorants, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, exposure, environmental exposure, FE[V.sub.1], lung function, respiratory function tests, VOC. Environ Health Perspect 114:1210-1214 (2006). doi:10.1289/ehp.9019 available via http://dx.doi.org/ [Online 25 April 2006]

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a diverse group of chemicals emitted as gases from a variety of commonly used products. The general population is exposed to VOCs from cleaning and degreasing agents, pesticides, air fresheners, toilet bowl deodorants, furniture, tobacco smoke, and building materials such as pressed wood products, adhesives, carpeting, paints, and varnishes. Although VOCs are also released into the outdoor air through automotive exhaust and industrial emissions, indoor VOC concentrations are much higher (Wallace et al. 1987, 1991).

Because people spend most of their time indoors, health effects related to VOCs in the residential setting are a concern, particularly with respect to respiratory illness (Diez et al. 2000; Farrow et al. 2003; Fiedler et al. 2005; Harving et al. 1991; Koren et al. 1992; Norback et al. 1995; Pappas et al. 2000; Smedje et al. 1997; Venn et al. 2003; Wieslander et al. 1997). Several studies have shown that elevated air concentrations of VOCs are associated with respiratory symptoms (Diez et al. 2000; Norback et al. 1995; Pappas et al. 2000; Rumchev et al. 2005; Smedje et al. 1997; Wieslander et al. 1997). Studies of VOC exposures and measures of pulmonary function have mostly been small and have used short-term measurements of VOC air concentrations in a single location to characterize exposures, which may not reflect the chronic exposures to these compounds (Fiedler et al. 2005; Harving et al. 1991; Norback et al. 1995; Pappas et al. 2000; Wieslander et al. 1997). Blood concentrations may better reflect chronic exposures to VOCs because they integrate exposures from all sources and can be used to estimate internal dose (Ashley and Prah 1997; Ashley et al. 1994; Sexton et al. 2005a).

A variety of VOCs were measured in a subset of participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994) (NHANES III) to determine background exposure levels for adults in the general U. …

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