Phenotypes of individuals affected by airborne chemicals in the general population

  • Nikolaj Drimer Berg
  • Allan Linneberg
  • Asger Dirksen
  • Jesper Elberling
Original Article



To characterise the chemical exposures and symptoms affecting individuals with subsequent adjustments of social life or occupational conditions, and further characterise these severely affected individuals.


All individuals (n = 1,134) who reported symptoms from airborne chemical exposures in a population-based questionnaire study of 6,000 individuals were included and dichotomised according to severity. Logistic regression models were used to characterise the group of severely affected individuals.


Severely affected individuals reported more symptoms and exposures related to symptoms than less severely affected individuals, and the number of symptoms was more predictive for severity than the number of exposures. Most predictive for the severity of reported symptoms were CNS-symptoms other than headache (OR = 3.2, P < 0.001) and exposure to freshly printed papers or magazines (OR = 2.0, P = 0.001).


CNS-symptoms except from headache were a main characteristic of individuals severely affected by common chemical exposures in a general population-based sample.


Phenotypes Symptoms Population-based Airborne chemicals Multiple chemical sensitivity Idiopathic environmental intolerance 


  1. Afshari A, Gunnarsen L, Clausen PA, Hansen V (2004) Emission of phthalates from PVC and other materials. Indoor Air 14:120–128. doi:10.1046/j.1600-0668.2003.00220.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altman DG (1991) Comparing groups—categorical data. In: Practical statistics for medical research. Chapman & Hall, London, pp 229–276Google Scholar
  3. Belpomme D, Irigaray P, Hardell L, Clapp R, Montagnier L, Epstein S et al (2007) The multitude and diversity of environmental carcinogens. Environ Res 105:414–429. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2007.07.002 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berg ND, Linneberg A, Dirksen A, Elberling J (2008) Prevalence of self-reported symptoms and consequences related to inhalation of airborne chemicals in a Danish general population. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 81:881–887. doi:10.1007/s00420-007-0282-0 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burstyn I, Boffetta P, Kauppinen T, Heikkila P, Svane O, Partanen T et al (2003) Estimating exposures in the asphalt industry for an international epidemiological cohort study of cancer risk. Am J Ind Med 43:3–17. doi:10.1002/ajim.10183 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caress SM, Steinemann AC (2003) A review of a two-phase population study of multiple chemical sensitivities. Environ Health Perspect 111:1490–1497PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Caress SM, Steinemann AC (2004) A national population study of the prevalence of multiple chemical sensitivity. Arch Environ Health 59:300–305PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Caress SM, Steinemann AC (2005) National prevalence of asthma and chemical hypersensitivity: an examination of potential overlap. J Occup Environ Med 47:518–522. doi:10.1097/01.jom.0000161736.54099.44 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carlsson H, Nilsson U, Ostman C (2000) Video display units: an emission source of the contact allergenic flame retardant triphenyl phosphate in the indoor environment. Environ Sci Technol 34:3885–3889. doi:10.1021/es990768n CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carlsson F, Karlson B, Orbaek P, Osterberg K, Ostergren PO (2005) Prevalence of annoyance attributed to electrical equipment and smells in a Swedish population, and relationship with subjective health and daily functioning. Public Health 119:568–577. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2004.07.011 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Centre for Epidemiology and Research (2003) The New South Wales adult health survey 2002. N S W Public Health Bull 14(Suppl 4):1–148Google Scholar
  12. Cometto-Muniz JE, Cain WS, Abraham MH (2004) Detection of single and mixed VOCs by smell and by sensory irritation. Indoor Air 14(Suppl 8):108–117. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.2004.00297.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cullen MR (1987) The worker with multiple chemical sensitivities: an overview. Occup Med 2:655–661PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Elberling J, Linneberg A, Mosbech H, Dirksen A, Frolund L, Madsen F et al (2004) A link between skin and airways regarding sensitivity to fragrance products? Br J Dermatol 151:1197–1203. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2004.06251.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elberling J, Linneberg A, Dirksen A, Johansen JD, Frolund L, Madsen F et al (2005) Mucosal symptoms elicited by fragrance products in a population-based sample in relation to atopy and bronchial hyper-reactivity. Clin Exp Allergy 35:75–81. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2005.02138.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gilbert NL, Gauvin D, Guay M, Heroux ME, Dupuis G, Legris M et al (2006) Housing characteristics and indoor concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde in Quebec City, Canada. Environ Res 102:1–8. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2006.02.007 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hausteiner C, Bornschein S, Hansen J, Zilker T, Forstl H (2005) Self-reported chemical sensitivity in Germany: a population-based survey. Int J Hyg Environ Health 208:271–278. doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2005.03.006 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johansson A, Bramerson A, Millqvist E, Nordin S, Bende M (2005) Prevalence and risk factors for self-reported odour intolerance: the Skovde population-based study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 78:559–564. doi:10.1007/s00420-005-0616-8 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Koch L, Rumrill P, Hennessey M, Vierstra C, Roessler RT (2007) An ecological approach to facilitate successful employment outcomes among people with multiple chemical sensitivity. Work 29:341–349PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Kreutzer R, Neutra RR, Lashuay N (1999) Prevalence of people reporting sensitivities to chemicals in a population-based survey. Am J Epidemiol 150:1–12PubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Lacour M, Zunder T, Schmidtke K, Vaith P, Scheidt C (2005) Multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS)—suggestions for an extension of the U.S. MCS-case definition. Int J Hyg Environ Health 208:141–151. doi:10.1016/j.ijheh.2005.01.017 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Meggs WJ, Dunn KA, Bloch RM, Goodman PE, Davidoff AL (1996) Prevalence and nature of allergy and chemical sensitivity in a general population. Arch Environ Health 51:275–282PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Mendell MJ (2007) Indoor residential chemical emissions as risk factors for respiratory and allergic effects in children: a review. Indoor Air 17:259–277. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.2007.00478.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Park J, Knudson S (2007) Medically unexplained physical symptoms. Health Rep 18:43–47PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Sorg BA, Bell IR (2001) Preface. Ann N Y Acad Sci 933:ix–xiCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sun S, Schiller JH, Gazdar AF (2007) Lung cancer in never smokers–a different disease. Nat Rev Cancer 7:778–790. doi:10.1038/nrc2190 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sunyer J, Jarvis D, Pekkanen J, Chinn S, Janson C, Leynaert B et al (2004) Geographic variations in the effect of atopy on asthma in the European Community Respiratory Health Study. J Allergy Clin Immunol 114:1033–1039. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2004.05.072 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nikolaj Drimer Berg
    • 1
  • Allan Linneberg
    • 2
  • Asger Dirksen
    • 3
  • Jesper Elberling
    • 1
  1. 1.The Danish Research Centre for Chemical Sensitivities, Gentofte HospitalUniversity of CopenhagenGentofteDenmark
  2. 2.Research Centre for Prevention and Health, Glostrup HospitalUniversity of CopenhagenGlostrupDenmark
  3. 3.Department of Respiratory Medicine Y, Gentofte HospitalUniversity of CopenhagenHellerupDenmark

Personalised recommendations