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Indoor ultrafine particle exposures and home heating systems: A cross-sectional survey of Canadian homes during the winter months

Abstract

Exposure to airborne particulate matter has a negative effect on respiratory health in both children and adults. Ultrafine particle (UFP) exposures are of particular concern owing to their enhanced ability to cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the lungs. In this investigation, our objective was to examine the contribution of home heating systems (electric baseboard heaters, wood stoves, forced-air oil/natural gas furnace) to indoor UFP exposures. We conducted a cross-sectional survey in 36 homes in the cities of Montréal, Québec, and Pembroke, Ontario. Real-time measures of indoor UFP concentrations were collected in each home for approximately 14 h, and an outdoor UFP measurement was collected outside each home before indoor sampling. A home-characteristic questionnaire was also administered, and air exchange rates were estimated using carbon dioxide as a tracer gas. Average UFP exposures of 21,594 cm−3 (95% confidence interval (CI): 14,014, 29,174) and 6660 cm−3 (95% CI: 4339, 8982) were observed for the evening (1600–2400) and overnight (2400–0800) hours, respectively. In an unadjusted comparison, overnight baseline UFP exposures were significantly greater in homes with electric baseboard heaters as compared to homes using forced-air oil or natural gas furnaces, and homes using wood stoves had significantly greater overnight baseline UFP exposures than homes using forced-air natural gas furnaces. However, in multivariate models, electric oven use (β=12,253 cm−3, 95% CI: 3524, 20,982), indoor relative humidity (β=1136 cm−3 %, 95% CI: 372, 1899), and indoor smoking (β=18,192 cm−3, 95% CI: 2073, 34,311) were the only significant determinants of mean indoor UFP exposure, whereas air exchange rate (β=4351 cm−3 h−1, 95% CI: 1507, 7195) and each 10,000 cm−3 increase in outdoor UFPs (β=811 cm−3, 95% CI: 244,1377) were the only significant determinants of overnight baseline UFP exposures. In general, our findings suggest that home heating systems are not important determinants of indoor UFP exposures.

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Acknowledgements

This study was conducted with support from The Canadian Research Network Centre of Excellence (AllerGen). We also thank all study participants for their cooperation and for welcoming us into their homes.

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Correspondence to Scott Weichenthal.

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Weichenthal, S., Dufresne, A., Infante-Rivard, C. et al. Indoor ultrafine particle exposures and home heating systems: A cross-sectional survey of Canadian homes during the winter months. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 17, 288–297 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jes.7500534

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Keywords

  • ultrafine particles
  • exposure assessment
  • indoor air quality
  • indoor particle sources

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