Indoor workplaces: the health effects of airborne particles

Inail and ENEA scientific investigation started

Assessing the health effects of atmospheric particulate matter levels in relation to the microclimate in different indoor work environments. This is the aim of the study launched by Inail with ENEA, Sapienza University of Rome, University of Cagliari and CNR.

"This is a new scientific investigation as part of our 'VIEPI - Integrated Assessment of Indoor Particulate Exposure' project, which studies the correlations between atmospheric particulate measurements and microclimate conditions in indoor environments, in order to understand the implications of occupational exposures" - stressed Armando Pelliccioni, a researcher at INAIL and scientific coordinator of the VIEPI project.

The concentration of pollutants can vary over time and depend not only on the nature of the sources but also on the ventilation, habits and activities of the occupants themselves. Moreover, exposure is a key aspect in assessing the effects of air pollution. In industrialised countries, and particularly in urban environments, the population spends more than 90% of its time indoors, i.e. in homes, offices, cars and places of education such as schools and universities.

The comment of the researchers

The comment of the researchers

"In recent years there has been a need to deepen our knowledge of indoor pollution, especially in the face of increasing scientific evidence on its harmful effects on human health. And for this reason"- stressed the INAIL researcher - "we have decided to further investigate this aspect of pollution by launching a new collaboration, which involves an integrated study of workers' exposure to atmospheric particulate matter in indoor environments".

"For the VIEPI project, the indoor pollutant we are going to study is ultrafine particulate matter, which is the size fraction that deserves the most attention because of its ability to penetrate the human body affecting various organs, such as the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and brain. These particles, made up of a complex cocktail of chemical components, can exert their toxic action on target organs and cause a series of important pathologies because they generate oxidative stress, weaken immune defences and increase inflammation in the airways and the body in general" - the ENEA researcher pointed out.

In addition, it has recently been highlighted that the presence and movement of individuals is also an important source of indoor particulate matter, in addition to other indoor sources and infiltration from outside, particularly from vehicle traffic. Individuals are therefore both a source and a receptor of pollution.

Future research steps

Future research steps

The ENEA research team is already at work in the laboratory on the in-vitro culture of healthy human bronchial cells; once they are ready, the cell cultures will be transferred to a university lecture hall, through a portable display, and they will "breathe", for a whole day, the same air as students and professors.

"We will use an innovative technique in the field of in vitro environmental toxicology that allows direct contact of the cellular system with the ambient air. In this way, we will be able to study the potential toxicity of environmental pollutants under conditions of real human exposure and no longer just in the laboratory" - explained Dr Grollino.

Subsequently, the bronchial cells will return to the laboratory, where the ENEA research team will carry out biochemical and molecular tests to analyse the toxicological response linked to exposure to indoor pollution. This will allow researchers to understand the potential harmful impact of indoor pollution on health, correlating the biological responses of bronchial cells with the chemical and physical characteristics of particulate matter.

"In addition, through the creation of maps of the concentration of indoor particulate matter, essentially edited by INAIL and the Operating Units of Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Cagliari, we will be able to identify the dynamics at the origin of the spatial distribution of concentrations in confined work environments. This will allow us to provide useful elements for drawing up guidelines to identify the optimal location of workstations and potentially polluting equipment" - concluded the ENEA researcher.

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