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Measurements of carbonyls in a 13-story building


Background, Aim and Scope

Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are emitted by many mobile and stationary sources and secondary aldehydes are intermediates in the photo-oxidation of organic compounds in the atmosphere. These aldehydes are emitted indoors by many materials such as furniture, carpets, heating and cooling systems, and by smoking. Carbonyls, mainly formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, have been studied because of their adverse health effects. In addition, formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen. Therefore, the concentrations of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were determined to assess the inhalation exposure doses to carbonyls for people who work in a 13-story building and in order to evaluate the cancer hazard.


Carbonyl compounds in indoor and outdoor air were measured at a 13-story building located in Mexico City. The mezzanine, fifth and tenth floors, and the third level-parking garage were selected for sampling. Samples were collected in two sampling periods, the first from April 20 to 29, 1998 and the second from December 1 to 20, 1998. Carbonyls were sampled by means of DNHP-coated cartridges at a flow rate of 1 1 min-1 from 9:00 to 19:00 hours, during 2-hour time intervals and analyzed by HPLC with UV/VIS detection.


Mean carbonyl concentrations were highest in the 3rd level-parking garage, with the formaldehyde concentration being the highest ranging from 108 to 418 ug m-3. In working areas, the highest carbonyl arithmetic mean concentrations (AM) were observed on the 5th floor. Acetone and formaldehyde concentrations were highest in April ranging from 161 to 348 µg m5 (AM = 226) and from 157 to 270 µg m-3 (AM= 221), respectively. Propionaldehyde and butyraldehyde were present in smaller concentrations ranging from 2 to 25 and 1 to 28 µg m-3, respectively, considering all the samples. Mean indoor/outdoor ratios of carbonyls ranged from 1.8 to 9.6. A reduction of inhalation exposure doses of 41% and 45% was observed in the fifth floor air after the air conditioning systems had been repaired. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde concentrations were higher in smoking environments.


Indoor carbonyl concentrations were significantly greater than outdoor concentrations. Tobacco smoke seems to be the main indoor source of formaldehyde. After the air conditioning system was maintained and repaired (as was recommended), an important reduction in the emission of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde was achieved on all floors, except for the 3rd level parking garage, thereby reducing the inhalation exposure doses.


The results obtained in this research demonstrated that maintenance of air conditioning systems must be carried out regularly in order to avoid possible adverse effects on health. Additionally, it is mandatory that isolated smoking areas, with air extraction systems, be installed in every public building.

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Correspondence to Armando P. Báez or Hugo G. Padilla or Rocío M. García or Raúl D. Belmont or Ma. del Carmen B. Torres.

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Báez, A.P., Padilla, H.G., García, R.M. et al. Measurements of carbonyls in a 13-story building. Environ Sci & Pollut Res 11, 400–404 (2004).

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  • Acetaldehyde
  • butyraldehyde
  • carbonyl compounds, measurements
  • exposure factors
  • formaldehyde
  • indoor pollutants
  • propionaldehyde
  • 13-story building