Indoor air quality experiments show exposure risks while cooking and cleaning

What chemicals do you breathe while cooking or cleaning in your home and are they potentially harmful? Colorado State University chemists have given us a solid head start on the answer.

A large, collaborative research experiment attempting to map the airborne chemistry of a typical home took place in 2018 and was co-led by Delphine Farmer, an associate professor in the CSU Department of Chemistry. The experiment, called HOMEChem, brought 60 scientists from 13 universities to a test house at the University of Texas at Austin to use sophisticated instrumentation to perform typical household activities such as cooking and cleaning, and to document the resulting chemistry. The effort, called HOMEChem, was supported by the Sloan Foundation.

in a new newspaper Environmental Science and Technology, Farmer’s team at CSU took the large amount of data collected during HOMEChem and ranked them according to health effects. They determined how many compounds they observed were likely to be human toxins, either with known human toxins or based on newer Environmental Protection Agency models. Most such compounds are emitted in low quantities and can be removed with proper ventilation. But the health effects of both individual compounds and their complex indoor mixtures are not well understood by scientists.

Underline? “Indoor air isn’t going to kill you, but we do find that indoor air has a lot more — and often higher levels — of known and potential air toxicants compared to outdoor, especially when cooking,” Farmer said. Prior to this experiment, atmospheric chemist who spent most of his career measuring more “traditional” outdoor toxicants.

data management

The success of data management to meaningfully connect data from HOMEChem to toxin databases was led by co-author Anna Hodshire, a former CSU postdoctoral researcher with skills in analyzing data from atmospheric instrumentation.

“I think it’s very interesting that there are so many compounds emitted from communal household activities, and that many of these compounds have not been studied from a toxicity perspective,” Hodshire said. Said. “This doesn’t automatically mean that all these compounds are toxic—but it does indicate that much more work needs to be done to evaluate some compounds that are often emitted in high concentrations from household activities.”

From the wide variety of compounds measured during HOMEChem, the usual suspects emerged, such as varying amounts of benzene and formaldehyde. The lesser-known acrolein, a pulmonary toxicant emitted by heating timber and oils, is emerging as a potential compound of interest for further research, Farmer said. Another compound that emerged from Hodshire’s analysis was isocyanic acid, which has not been well studied and is known to react with proteins in the human body.

The researchers found that cooking activities produce larger amounts of potentially toxic compounds, similar to those seen in some wildfire smoke—which only makes sense to Farmer when you think of a wildfire as “an extreme form of cooking.”

Gaps in understanding everyday toxins

Contributing to the knowledge of indoor air chemistry through the HOMEChem experiment has given Farmer and his team a new appreciation of how much we lack in our understanding of our daily exposure to potential toxins.

“We have now done our part and hopefully there is enough information for others to take the blame and see which compounds are important to study,” Farmer said. Said.

Farmer and collaborator Marina Vance of the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a follow-up experiment on HOMEChem in 2022, called CASA, that investigated how chemicals emitted indoors react with surfaces such as floors, walls, and furniture. The results of this experiment will come.

Story Source:

materials provided by Colorado State University. Originally written by Anne Manning. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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