The respiratory effects of volatile organic compounds

Int J Occup Environ Health. 2000 Jan-Mar;6(1):1-8. doi: 10.1179/oeh.2000.6.1.1.


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been implicated as causative agents in asthma and building-related illness. To determine whether a mixture of VOCs could impair lung function or cause airway inflammation among subjects without bronchial hyperresponsiveness, the authors conducted a randomized, crossover-design trial of controlled human exposures to filtered air for four hours, VOCs at 25 mg/m(3) for four hours, and VOCs at 50 mg/m(3) for four hours, using a VOC mixture based on sampling of indoor environments. VOC exposures caused dose-related increases in lower respiratory, upper respiratory, and non-respiratory symptoms, with no significant change in lung function (FEV(1);, FVC, or FEF(25-75), nasal lavage cellularity or differential cell counts, induced sputum cellularity or differential cell counts, or biomarkers of airway inflammation, including IL-8, LTB(4), or albumin in nasal lavage or induced sputum samples. Atopic individuals had significantly reduced FEE(25-75 following exposure to VOCs at 50 mg/m(3), suggesting that these individuals may be more sensitive to the health effects of VOCs. The authors conclude that reductions in levels of VOCs to substantially less than 25 mg/m(3) are required if a "non-irritating" work environment is desired.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Albumins / analysis
  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Cell Count
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / chemically induced
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / diagnosis
  • Interleukin-8 / analysis
  • Leukotriene B4 / analysis
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / physiology
  • Male
  • Nasal Lavage Fluid / chemistry
  • Organic Chemicals / adverse effects*
  • Respiration / drug effects*
  • Skin Tests
  • Spirometry
  • Sputum / cytology
  • Time Factors
  • Volatilization


  • Air Pollutants
  • Albumins
  • Interleukin-8
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Leukotriene B4