Volatile organic compounds and pulmonary function in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Aug;114(8):1210-4. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9019.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Organic Chemicals