Office air could make you sick

By Shayna Brouker • Published: April 18th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You’ve probably heard the news about the link between job stress and heart disease and how too much sitting can increase your risk of death. Some bosses can be a real pain, and then there are toxic coworkers and hostile work environments. But what if your actual work environment is making you sick?

New research from Boston University investigated the idea that potentially poisonous polyfluorinated compounds, or P-F-Cs, could be permeating the air in offices and causing illness in those who spend many of their waking hours in them. These chemicals are found in consumer products like furniture, paint, carpet stain repellants, food packaging and even clothing ¬¬— and they have been linked with health problems such as low birth weight, high cholesterol and early menopause.

To determine the common sources of these chemicals, scientists sampled air from more than 30 Boston offices over a period of four days. They also took blood samples from the nine-to-fivers.

The results found high levels of a P-F-C called fluorotelomer (floor-o-tell-uh-mer) alcohols, or F-T-O-Hs. In fact, the concentration of F-T-O-Hs in offices was three to five times higher than levels found previously in household air.

The workers’ blood samples reveal a byproduct of F-T-O-Hs, suggesting that office air is a main source of contamination. The newer the building, the higher the level of P-F-Cs.

More than 95 percent of people in the U.S. have been found to have traces of P-F-Cs in their blood, but you can avoid these chemicals by opting out of stain treatment when buying new carpets and furniture. Don’t wear Teflon or Scotchgard-treated clothes. Steer clear of packaged or fast food that comes in treated wrappers. And while you’re at it, cook with stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead of non-stick types. Keep your body and your abode P-F-C-free.