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Paint in Kids’ Rooms Blamed for Asthma

Children sleeping in bedrooms where they are exposed to high concentrations of a type of volatile organic compound found in paint and other products, and called propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs), are at higher risk for allergies and asthma, according to a Swedish study.

While there is lots of research to show volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) have ill effects on human health, the study is significant as PGEs were previously thought to be among the least harmful of the VOCs. This is because they emit fewer fumes. PGE ethers turn up in water-based paint, floor varnish, cleansers and cosmetics. They’re even in some processed foods.

The study evaluated air samples from the bedrooms of Swedish children between the ages of 3 and 8. Scientists in Sweden and at Harvard University published their findings in the Public Library of Science open-access journal Plos ONE in October, 2010.

The children with the highest PGE concentrations in their bedrooms were twice as likely to have asthma, two-and-a-half times more likely to have eczema, and more than four times more likely to have allergic rhinitis. None of the other VOCs posed a similar risk.

As well, the results showed that children living in homes where at least one room was painted right before or after their birth had 63 per cent higher concentrations of PGEs in their bedrooms than children whose houses did not receive a coat of paint.

The researchers say parents may wish to reduce exposure to PGEs at the newborn age. “Painting [the room] well in advance would be helpful, but it’s not the only thing parents can do,” says Hyunok Choi, lead author and research associate in Harvard’s department of environmental health.

“Adequate ventilation and reduction of indoor dampness would also help to reduce the propylene glycol and glycol ethers concentration in indoor air,” she said in an interview.

Choi adds that there is not enough research on PGEs, and she plans to replicate the study on a larger scale in the U.S and Sweden.

First published in Allergic Living magazine, Winter 2011.
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