Air quality tests in hospitals have revealed high levels of contaminants.

Air quality study reveals dangerous levels of PCBs in air at Copenhagen’s main hospital Rigshospitalet

Most people check into a hospital with the hopes of getting better. But what if they are exposed to contaminated air?

Indoor air quality in hospitals has always been a problem – the air is not only polluted by bacteria and viruses, but also by volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold and fungi as well as chemicals such as glutaraldehyde (used for equipment sterilization), diethyl ether (anesthetic gas) and formaldehyde (used to preserve tissue).

And these IAQ concerns are not limited to North American hospitals either.

Recent random air quality checks at the Rigshospitalet hospital in Copenhagen have revealed dangerously high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the air patients and employees breathe.

The petroleum-based compounds, which are colorless and odorless, are known to be carcinogenic, as well as for causing hormone disruptions and neural damage. Studies suggest they may also contribute to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

PCBs were widely used as additives in grouts and joint-fillers in buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s. Over time the volatile chemical additives evaporate into the air, in a process called off-gassing. Air quality checks reveal that is exactly what is happening at Rigshospitalet.

Two of the eight air quality checks conducted at Rigshospitalet exceeded the National Board of Health’s safe limit for PCB concentrations. In one of the measurements, the concentration was 20 percent above the limit. In the other, it was double.

The director of Rigshospitalet, Gunnar Theis Hansen, underscored that although the situation is serious, there is nothing to indicate that any patients or employees have gotten sick from the poisonous air.

“The concentration of the substance combined with the time span in which people stay in the rooms, doesn’t give any cause for anxiety,” Hansen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. However, he added that the hospital is “taking it very seriously. We have a problem and we’re going to do something about it.”

More extensive and systematic air quality measurements are now being done at the hospital to see how widespread the PCB problem is. The new measurements will form the basis for an action plan on how to solve the problem.

Dorthe Steenberg, the vice chairman of the Danish Nurses’ Organisation, was surprised to learn that employees and patients at Rigshospitalet have been breathing in PCB gases for more than 30 years.

“The situation is worrying. But it’s good that Rigshospitalet is itself actively taking measurements and identifying the problem,” Steenberg said.

PCB production was banned in the US in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001.

Source: Copenhagen Post

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