There are a host of chemicals found in the typical office environment that may cause long-term health issues.
A new study from the journal Environmental Science and Technology reports that office air contains toxic chemicals released from carpeting, paint, furniture glues, water repellents and coverings, and other sources. The polyfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a group of chemicals that build up in the body over time, and can take years for the body to metabolize and eliminate.
According to a news release, "[The researchers] found concentrations of a PFC called fluorotelomer alcohol (FTOH) in office air that were 3-5 times higher than those reported in previous studies of household air, suggesting that offices may represent a unique and important exposure environment." A metabolite of the FTOH was found in the office workers tested, and higher levels were found in workers exposed to buildings where more recent renovations had taken place.
"Effects from these compounds on lipid metabolism, liver health, development, reproduction, and the immune system have been reported in animal studies.(5, 9, 10) Though there has been considerably less investigation of effects in humans, some evidence exists that PFOA and PFOS may be associated with lowered birth weight(11, 12) and increased cholesterol," according to the original paper.
The tests were done in Boston and included 31 participants whose blood was taken for measurement of blood serum levels of chemicals. Air tests were also done in the offices. Higher air concentrations of PFCs related to higher blood serum levels of the chemicals. These "accumulative and persistent contaminants" have half-lives of 2.3 years to 7.2 years, meaning that it takes the body that much time to get rid of half of the substance. This is the first time a test of this kind has been done, and the dramatic results likely mean that additional larger studies will follow this one.
What can the typical office worker do to limit exposure? Telecommuting when possible, working in outdoor areas, or bringing toxin-sucking plants to the office can all reduce the quantity of exposure to such chemicals.