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Is Your Office Making You Sick?

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You may think staying indoors would be better for your lungs, but a new study finds Americans face the bulk of our health risks not from smoggy outside air — but from potentially toxic substances in our office air.

Polyfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, are often found in and given off by consumer items such as furniture, carpet stain repellents, paint and food packaging. More than 95 percent of people in the U.S. have some levels of the chemicals in their blood, and in recent years, research has linked PFC exposure to health risks like lower birth weight and higher cholesterol.

In a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology, Boston researchers seeking the most common sources of PFCs focused on typical office workplaces.

They found the highest levels of these chemicals existed in the air inside new buildings and, subsequently, in the blood of those who spend their days there. Scientists even found traces of a compound withdrawn a decade ago in the blood of the 31 office workers tested.

”Workers who spend their day in a typical office environment are likely to have exposure to PFCs through the air, and that seems to lead to PFC levels in their blood,” concluded researcher Michael McClean, ScD, associate professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health.

”The new study is really important,” Olga Naidenko, PhD, a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, told WebMD. “Up to this point, there has been debate among researchers about from which sources PFCs get into our bodies. This class of chemicals, they are all over the place.”

She added that pinpointing the sources of the chemicals is critical, and said, “We need to get this stuff out [of consumer goods] … We should not be exposing our workers to these chemicals.”

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