Asthma and the indoor environment: the significance of emission of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds from newly painted indoor surfaces

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 1997;69(2):115-24. doi: 10.1007/s004200050125.


As a part of the worldwide European Community Respiratory Health Survey, possible relations between asthma and emissions from newly painted indoor surfaces were studied. The participants (n = 562) answered a self-administered questionnaire, with questions on symptoms and indoor exposures, including indoor painting, during the last 12 months. The participants also underwent a structured interview, spirometry, peak flow measurements at home (PEF), methacholine provocation test for bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR), and skin prick tests. In addition, serum concentration of eosinophilic cationic protein (S-ECP), blood eosinophil count (B-EOS), and total immunoglobulin E (S-IgE) were measured. Current asthma was defined as a combination of BHR and at least one asthma-related symptom (wheezing and attacks of breathlessness). The information gathered on indoor painting was compared with exposure measurements of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOC) performed in a selected sample of the dwellings (n = 62). Relations between exposures, asthma and clinical signs were calculated by multiple linear or logistic regression, adjusting for possible influence of age, gender and tobacco smoking. The prevalence of asthma was increased among subjects with domestic exposure to newly painted surfaces (OR = 1.5; 95% CI 1.0-2.4), particularly newly painted wood details (OR = 2.3; 95% CI 1.2-4.5) and kitchen painting (OR = 2.2; 95% CI 1.1-4.5). Moreover, blood eosinophil concentrations were significantly elevated among subjects living in newly painted dwellings. A significantly increased prevalence of symptoms related to asthma, but not BHR, was observed in relation to workplace exposure to newly painted surfaces. The indoor concentration of aliphatic compounds (C8-C11), butanols, and 2,2,4-trimethyl 1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate (TXIB) was significantly elevated in newly painted dwellings. The total indoor VOC was about 100 micrograms/m3 higher in dwellings painted in the last year. A significant increase in formaldehyde concentration was observed in dwellings with newly painted wood details. Our results indicate that exposure to chemical emissions from indoor paint is related to asthma, and that some VOCs may cause inflammatory reactions in the airways. To improve asthma management, and to counteract the increasing frequency of asthma, the significance of the indoor environment should not be neglected. Our study suggests that the contribution of emissions from paint to indoor concentrations of formaldehyde and VOCs should be as low as possible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects
  • Asthma / chemically induced*
  • Asthma / immunology
  • Eosinophils
  • Female
  • Formaldehyde / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin E / blood
  • Leukocyte Count / drug effects
  • Male
  • Paint / adverse effects*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Volatilization


  • Air Pollutants
  • Formaldehyde
  • Immunoglobulin E