Symptoms prevalence among office workers of a sealed versus a non-sealed building: associations to indoor air quality

José Luiz de Magalhães Rios, José Laerte Boechat, Adriana Gioda, Celeste Yara dos Santos, Francisco Radler de Aquino Neto, José Roberto Lapa e Silva
Environment International 2009, 35 (8): 1136-41

OBJECTIVES: An increasing number of complaints related to time spent in artificially ventilated buildings have been progressively reported and attributed, at least in part, to physical and chemical exposures in the office environment. The objective of this research was to investigate the association between the prevalence of work-related symptoms and the indoor air quality, comparing a sealed office building with a naturally ventilated one, considering, specially, the indoor concentration of TPM, TVOCs and the main individual VOCs.

METHODS: A cross-sectional study was performed to compare the prevalence of sick building syndrome (SBS) symptoms among 1736 office workers of a sealed office building and 950 of a non-sealed one, both in Rio de Janeiro's downtown. The prevalence of symptoms was obtained by a SBS standardized questionnaire. The IAQ of the buildings was evaluated through specific methods, to determine the temperature, humidity, particulate matter and volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations.

RESULTS: Upper airways and ophthalmic symptoms, tiredness and headache were highly prevalent in both buildings. Some symptoms were more prevalent in the sealed building: "eye dryness" 33.3% and 27.1% (p: 0.01); "runny nose" 37.3% and 31.3% (p: 0.03); "dry throat" 42% and 36% (p: 0.02); and "lethargy" 58.5% and 50.5% (p: 0.03) respectively. However, relative humidity and indoor total particulate matter (TPM) concentration as well as total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) were paradoxically greater in the non-sealed building, in which aromatic compounds had higher concentration, especially benzene. The analysis between measured exposure levels and resulting symptoms showed no association among its prevalence and TPM, TVOCs, benzene or toluene concentration in none of the buildings.

CONCLUSIONS: Other disregarded factors, like undetected VOCs, mites, molds and endotoxin concentrations, may be associated to the greater prevalence of symptoms in the sealed building.

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