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Exposure to volatile organic compounds in healthcare settings
  1. Ryan F LeBouf1,
  2. M Abbas Virji1,
  3. Rena Saito1,
  4. Paul K Henneberger1,
  5. Nancy Simcox2,
  6. Aleksandr B Stefaniak1
  1. 1National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA
  2. 2Center for Indoor Environments and Health, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan F LeBouf, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA; rlebouf{at}


Objectives To identify and summarise volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure profiles of healthcare occupations.

Methods Personal (n=143) and mobile area (n=207) evacuated canisters were collected and analysed by a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer to assess exposures to 14 VOCs among 14 healthcare occupations in five hospitals. Participants were volunteers identified by their supervisors. Summary statistics were calculated by occupation. Principal component analysis (PCA) was used to reduce the 14 analyte inputs to five orthogonal factors and identify occupations that were associated with these factors. Linear regressions were used to assess the association between personal and mobile area samples.

Results Exposure profiles differed among occupations; ethanol had the highest geometric mean (GM) among nursing assistants (∼4900 and ∼1900 µg/m3, personal and area), and 2-propanol had the highest GM among medical equipment preparers (∼4600 and ∼2000 µg/m3, personal and area). The highest total personal VOC exposures were among nursing assistants (∼9200 µg/m3), licensed practical nurses (∼8700 µg/m3) and medical equipment preparers (∼7900 µg/m3). The influence of the PCA factors developed from personal exposure estimates varied by occupation, which enabled a comparative assessment of occupations. For example, factor 1, indicative of solvent use, was positively correlated with clinical laboratory and floor stripping/waxing occupations and tasks. Overall, a significant correlation was observed (r=0.88) between matched personal and mobile area samples, but varied considerably by analyte (r=0.23–0.64).

Conclusions Healthcare workers are exposed to a variety of chemicals that vary with the activities and products used during activities. These VOC profiles are useful for estimating exposures for occupational hazard ranking for industrial hygienists as well as epidemiological studies.

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