IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Using Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds as Biomarkers of Occupational Exposure to Mould: A Feasibility Study


Air quality is a key aspect of occupational health and safety. Moulds and associated chemicals are some of the contaminants to which workers can be exposed. These microorganisms are responsible for numerous health problems (disease or discomfort), including acute allergies, asthma, sinusitis/rhinitis, headaches, environmental hypersensitivity, irritations and inflammation.
Monitoring for fungi is traditionally done using direct evaluation methods or quantitative PCR (polymerase chain reaction). These approaches, however, require a complex sampling procedure that must be carried out by highly experienced personnel, as well as access to the contaminated premises for extensive periods of time and costly technical resources. It also takes a relatively long time to get results. 
A new approach involves measuring volatile organic compounds emitted specifically by microfungi in the workplace. However, direct measurement of these microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) raises issues similar to those of the traditional approach. The suggested alternative this paper describes is an approach based on measuring MVOCs in the biological matrices of exposed workers, before and after a work shift. This biomonitoring would be complementary to existing approaches.
The study included a literature review to document current knowledge and evaluate the utility of this approach. Measurement of MVOCs in biological matrices and of MVOC levels in indoor air and their specificity are discussed. In addition, 548 MVOCs emitted by numerous species of mould were collected. Based on a close examination of several parameters (health-related parameters, emission frequency, physicochemical and pharmacokinetic parameters, etc.), this number was reduced by 96% to 20 MVOCs that were selected for a biomonitoring approach. Lastly, recommendations are given for implementation of this approach in practice, and suggestions for further study are made.