Liberty Goodwin, Director

P.O. Box 40441, Providence, RI 02906

Tel. 401-351-9193, E-Mail:


(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)


Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2004;61:923
2004 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd ,


Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds Found to be

Important in the Cause of Childhood Asthma


The role of indoor air quality in the aetiology of asthma has again come under scrutiny in a case-control study from Perth, Western Australia. Children who had received emergency treatment for asthma were found to have been exposed to significantly higher concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at home than community controls.


VOCs found in the home include solvents, floor adhesives, paint, cleaning products, furnishings, polishes, and room fresheners. Measurements of VOCs in the homes of 88 cases were made within two weeks of their emergency hospital visit in winter and again in summer. The homes of 104 controls were monitored during the same periods of time. The highest median concentrations were for benzene, followed by toluene and 1,2-dichlorobenzene. In the present study, the concentrations of total VOCs were low, and below currently accepted recommendations.


After controlling for potential confounding variables, children exposed to VOCs of >60g/m3 (median level of exposure) had a fourfold increased risk of asthma. The highest odds ratios for individual VOCs were for benzene (2.9, 2.3 to 3.8), ethylbenzene (2.5, 1.2 to 5.6), and toluene (1.8, 1.4 to 2.4). For every 10 unit increase in the concentration of toluene and benzene, the risk of having asthma increased by almost two and three times respectively.


VOCs are commonly found in the home, but there is insufficient evidence about their concentrations and effects on health; levels below currently accepted recommendations were found in this study. Further research in this area is now needed.


{blacktriangleup}Rumchev K, et al. Thorax 2004;59:746751.


See Abstract other side. For full (free) text, go to:





ABSTRACT: Association of Domestic Exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds With Asthma in Young Children


K Rumchev1, J Spickett1, M Bulsara2, M Phillips1 and S Stick3


1 School of Public Health, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WA 6845, Australia
2 University of WA, School of Population Health, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
3 Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Department of Respiratory Medicine, GPO Box D184, Perth, WA 6001, Australia

Correspondence to: Dr K Rumchev , School of Public Health, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, WA 6845, Australia;


Aim: To investigate the association between domestic exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and asthma in young children.


Methods: A population based case-control study was conducted in Perth, Western Australia in children aged between 6 months and 3 years. Cases (n = 88) were children recruited at Princess Margaret Hospital accident and emergency department and discharged with asthma as the primary diagnosis; 104 controls consisted of children from the same age group without an asthma diagnosis identified through the Health Department of Western Australia. Information regarding the health status of the study children and characteristics of the home was collected using a standardised questionnaire. Exposure to VOCs, average temperature and relative humidity were measured in winter and summer in the living room of each participating household.


Results: Cases were exposed to significantly higher VOC levels (g/m3) than controls (p<0.01). Most of the individual VOCs appeared to be significant risk factors for asthma with the highest odds ratios for benzene followed by ethylbenzene and toluene. For every 10 unit increase in the concentration of toluene and benzene (g/m3) the risk of having asthma increased by almost two and three times, respectively.


Conclusions: Domestic exposure to VOCs at levels below currently accepted recommendations may increase the risk of childhood asthma. Measurement of total VOCs may underestimate the risks associated with individual compounds.




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