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Asthma and pollution at home

The Physical Chemistry of the Atmosphere Laboratory (1) of the University Louis Pasteur will soon publish some very novel results, obtained from asthmatic patients, which question the recommended level of formaldehyde regarding human health in the domestic environment. This air-born gaseous substance is classified as a pollutant at high concentrations.

There are substances in the air which, at high concentrations, can lead to harmful effects on health or the environment. This depends primarily on the dose and the duration of exposure or enclosure. Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (2) (VOC) released in small concentrations from many commonly used products : insulating foam, lacquers, glues, varnishes, inks, resins, paper, household products, pesticides, certain types of chipboard and plywood. It is also used in some cosmetics and textiles.

The concentration of formaldehyde in the air was measured in various environments : exterior, intermediate (libraries, shopping centres, train stations) and interior (individual homes). In around 10% of the studied locations, the level of formaldehyde was found to be greater than 50 µg m-3 (3). The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 100 µg m-3 for 30 minutes corresponds to acute exposure, the recommended value of formaldehyde exposure in an interior environment. According to the results obtained by the Physical Chemistry of the Atmosphere Laboratory (ULP/CNRS joint research unit) in collaboration with the Pneumology Department of the Strasbourg University Hospitals (4), the researchers of these two teams suggest a new value of between 50 and 60 µg m-3 for chronic exposure. Effectively, when people suffering from asthma stay at home, they are constantly exposed to low concentrations of formaldehyde over a period of hours and not intermittently for a period of 30 minutes. This study was performed in the Lower-Rhine region on a population of non-smoking, allergic asthmatics not exposed to formaldehyde in their professional life compared to a control population.

The obtained results, supported by the Région Alsace, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the French Ministry for Regional Planning and Environment, raises the question on whether manufacturers of construction materials, furniture and maintenance products will take this new recommendation into account. It has also provided new clues in the study of allergic reactions to atmospheric pollutants present in our everyday environment.

Isabel Pellon Zarragoitia | alfa
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