A new study suggests that your indoor office air -- particularly in newly renovated offices - could be making you sick by exposing you to harmful PFCs, or polyfluorinated compounds.
''Workers who spend their day in a typical office environment are likely to have exposure to PFCs through the air, and that seems to lead to PFC levels in their blood," said researcher Michael McClean, associate professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health in the US.
PFCs are often released by furniture, carpet stain repellents, paint, and food packaging, and are linked to a host of health problems including thyroid hormone imbalance, certain cancers, and infertility.
According to the American Chemical Society last week, McClean and his team checked the blood of 31 office workers in Boston, finding "concentrations of a PFC called fluorotelomer alcohol (FTOH) in office air that were three to five times higher than those reported in previous studies of household air." The findings suggest that offices may represent a unique toxic environment, and that "workers in newly renovated office buildings may receive considerably higher doses of PFCs than workers in older buildings."
The study is published in Environmental Science & Technology.
''The new study is really important," Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at consumer advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, told WebMD. "Up to this point, there has been debate among researchers about from which sources PFCs get into our bodies," she said. "This class of chemicals, they are all over the place."
"We need to get this stuff out [of consumer goods]," she adds. "We should not be exposing our workers to these chemicals." According to Naidenko, PFCs in consumer goods such as carpeting do not dissipate quickly, and it's important for consumers to check before they buy items such as carpeting or office chairs if any PFCs (from stain repellents) are in the item.
Another study helmed by McClean and published last summer also suggests the surfaces in your office could be covered in a coating of toxic dust.
His team discovered concentrations of a banned flame retardant called polybrominated dipheny ether (PBDE) on the hands of workers in Boston who spent at least 20 hours a week in an office.
PBDEs were once widely used in computers and other electronics as well as the polyurethane foam padding in office chairs, furniture, and carpeting -- but are still lurking around in a lot of offices. While you likely can't avoid PBDEs altogether, researchers said the best way to cut your exposure is to wash your hands often with soap and water.