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

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Using Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds as Biomarkers of Occupational Exposure to Mold ‒ A Feasibility Study


Air quality is a key aspect of occupational health and safety, and molds and their components are among 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.

Fungal presence is traditionally monitored using direct evaluation methods or quantitative PCR. These approaches, however, require a complex sampling procedure that must be carried out by highly experienced staff as well as access to the contaminated premises for extensive periods of time and costly technical resources. In addition, it 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) presents issues similar to those of the traditional approach. The suggested alternative this project examines is an approach based on measuring MVOCs in the biological matrices of those exposed, before and after a work shift. This biomonitoring would complement 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 mold 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 21 MVOCs that were selected for a biomonitoring approach. Lastly, recommendations are given for implementation of this approach on the ground and the outlook for the future is suggested.