Pollutant exposures and health symptoms in aircrew and office workers: Is there a link?

Sensory effects in eyes and airways are common symptoms reported by aircraft crew and office workers. Neurological symptoms, such as headache, have also been reported. To assess the commonality and differences in exposures and health symptoms, a literature search of aircraft cabin and office air concentrations of non-reactive volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone-initiated terpene reaction products were compiled and assessed. Data for tricresyl phosphates, in particular tri-ortho-cresyl phosphate (ToCP), were also compiled, as well as information on other risk factors such as low relative humidity.
A conservative health risk assessment for eye, airway and neurological effects was undertaken based on a “worst-case scenario” which assumed a simultaneous constant exposure for 8 h to identified maximum concentrations in aircraft and offices. This used guidelines and reference values for sensory irritation for eyes and upper airways and airflow limitation; a tolerable daily intake value was used for ToCP. The assessment involved the use of hazard quotients or indexes, defined as the summed ratio(s) (%) of compound concentration(s) divided by their guideline value(s).
The concentration data suggest that, under the assumption of a conservative “worst-case scenario”, aircraft air and office concentrations of the compounds in question are not likely to be associated with sensory symptoms in eyes and airways. This is supported by the fact that maximum concentrations are, in general, associated with infrequent incidents and brief exposures. Sensory symptoms, in particular in eyes, appear to be exacerbated by environmental and occupational conditions that differ in aircraft and offices, e.g., ozone incidents, low relative humidity, low cabin pressure, and visual display unit work. The data do not support airflow limitation effects. For ToCP, in view of the conservative approach adopted here and the rareness of reported incidents, the health risk of exposure to this compound in aircraft is considered negligible.

Source: Wolkoff P, Crump DR, Harrison PTC. Environment International, Volume 87, February 2016, p. 74-84.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2015.11.008

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