Date: 19 Dec 2003

Indoor air quality and health problems associated with damp floor coverings

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Abstract

Objectives

To study the relationship between a high incidence of bronchial asthma among employees working in an office building and an indoor air problem related to the degradation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) floor coverings in the building. The indoor air measurements and results of renovations are also described.

Methods

Employees’ symptoms were surveyed by a questionnaire, and the incidence of asthma was calculated from the medical records for 1997–2000. The quality of indoor air was assessed by microbial sampling and by investigation of the building for possible moisture damage. Indoor air was sampled for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through Tenax adsorbent tubes. In situ volatile emission measurements from the concrete floor were performed via the field and laboratory emission cell (FLEC) method.

Results

In an office with approximately 150 employees, eight new cases of asthma were found in 4 years. In addition, the workers complained of respiratory, conjunctival and nasal symptoms. Emissions indicating the degradation of plastic floor coverings (e.g. 2-ethyl-1-hexanol, 1-butanol) were found in the indoor air and floor material samples. The plastic floor coverings, adhesives and the levelling layers were carefully removed from 12 rooms. The VOCs had diffused into the underlying concrete slabs. The concrete was warmed to remove the diffused VOCs from these areas. After the repairs the concentrations of the VOCs indicating the degradation of PVC, decreased, as did the prevalence of the employees’ symptoms and several asthma patients’ need for medication.

Conclusions

The workers in the office building complained of several respiratory, conjunctival and dermal symptoms. The incidence of adult-onset asthma was approximately nine-times higher than that among Finns employed in similar work. The most probable single cause of the indoor air problem was the degradation of the plastic floor coverings.