We investigated asthma and atopy in relation to microbial and plasticizer exposure. Pupils in eight primary schools in Uppsala (Sweden) answered a questionnaire, 1014 (68%) participated. Totally, 7.7% reported doctor-diagnosed asthma, 5.9% current asthma, and 12.2% allergy to pollen/pets. Wheeze was reported by 7.8%, 4.5% reported daytime breathlessness, and 2.0% nocturnal breathlessness. Measurements were performed in 23 classrooms (May-June), 74% had <1000 ppm CO(2) indoors. None had visible mold growth or dampness. Mean total microbial volatile organic compound (MVOC) concentration was 423 ng/m(3) indoors and 123 ng/m(3) outdoors. Indoor concentration of TMPD-MIB (2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol monoisobutyrate, Texanol) and TMPD-DIB (2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate, TXIB), two common plasticizers, were 0.89 and 1.64 microg/m(3), respectively. MVOC and plasticizer concentration were correlated (r = 0.5; P < 0.01). Mold concentration was 360 cfu/m(3) indoors and 980 cfu/m(3) outdoors. At higher indoor concentrations of total MVOC, nocturnal breathlessness (P < 0.01) and doctor-diagnosed asthma (P < 0.05) were more common. Moreover, there were positive associations between nocturnal breathlessness and 3-methylfuran (P < 0.01), 3-methyl-1-butanol (P < 0.05), dimethyldisulfide (P < 0.01), 2-heptanone (P < 0.01), 1-octen-3-ol (P < 0.05), 3-octanone (P < 0.05), TMPD-MIB (P < 0.05), and TMPD-DIB (P < 0.01). TMPD-DIB was positively associated with wheeze (P < 0.05), daytime breathlessness (P < 0.05), doctor-diagnosed asthma (P < 0.05), and current asthma (P < 0.05). In conclusion, exposure to MVOC and plasticizers at school may be a risk factor for asthmatic symptoms in children.
Practical implications: Despite generally good ventilation and lack of visible signs of mold growth, we found an association between respiratory symptoms and indoor MVOC concentration. In addition, we found associations between asthmatic symptoms and two common plasticizers. The highest levels of MVOC, TMPD-MIB, and TMPD-DIB were found in two new buildings, suggesting that material emissions should be better controlled. As MVOC and plasticizers concentrations were positively correlated, while indoor viable molds and bacteria were negatively correlated, it is unclear if indoor MVOC is an indicator of microbial exposure. Further studies focusing on health effects of chemical emissions from indoor plastic materials, including PVC-floor coatings, are needed.