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Chemicals you may be exposed to at work

If you work in a rundown office that hasn’t seen a lick of fresh paint or a new carpet since the Mulroney era you may want to count yourself lucky.

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Masterfile

If you work in a rundown office that hasn’t seen a lick of fresh paint or a new carpet since the Mulroney era, you may want to count yourself lucky. A new study by researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health (via WebMD) suggests that employees who work in recently renovated offices have some of the highest levels of potentially harmful PFCs in their blood. 

PFCs or polyfluorinated compounds are present in many everyday household items from food wraps and non-stick pans to furniture, clothing and household cleaners. They’re also used in paints and cleaning products, as well as carpet and furniture treatments. 

The family of chemicals has long been the target of environmental groups because of its impact on the environment—PFCs don’t break down—and the potential harm they represent to the health of humans and wildlife. 

Some animal studies suggest a link between certain cancers and PFCs, while others have explored the effects on reproductive and immune system health. While these chemicals are omnipresent in our lives, the study indicates that offices may offer unique environments for exposure. 

For the study, the researchers compared air samples from 31 offices in Boston with blood samples from the employees who worked there. After identifying the kinds of PFCs present in the air, the researchers compared those findings with the blood samples. 

They discovered a few interesting things: First, that the unique composition of the air samples correlated with the chemicals present in the employees’ blood, and second, that the air samples were “three to five times higher” than levels normally associated with household air. 

Workers in new buildings also showed the highest levels of PFCs in the blood, which leads some to speculate that the newer furniture, paint, carpet, etc. may be the culprit. In contrast, workers in the older buildings showed the lowest levels of PFCs. 

How do you reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals? At work, limiting exposure may be something employees can address with employers planning a renovation. At home, it may start with a more active consumer base. Olga Naidenko, PhD, from the Environmental Working Group, told WebMD that people must be more proactive when it comes to purchasing consumer goods, asking whether or not they contain PFCs.