Volatile organic compounds from microorganisms : identification and health effects

Abstract: Damp building materials are subjected to degradation processes due to moisture and also microbial growth, with both of these giving rise to emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may contribute to indoor air health problems. The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate emissions of reactive and non-reactive VOCs from damp building materials and from the microorganisms growing on them, and also to investigate the possible health impact of these compounds. Three studies were carried out in order to study emissions of VOCs. The first investigated emissions from a mixture of five fungi (Aspergillus versicolor, Fusarium culmorum, Penicillium chrysogenum, Ulocladium botrytis and Wallemia sebi) and the second emissions from the bacterium Streptomyces albidoflavus. In both studies the microorganisms were cultivated on three different building materials (pine wood, particle board and gypsum board) and one synthetic media, MEA and TGEA respectively. The bacterium was also cultivated on sand. Air samples from the cultures were collected on six different adsorbents and chemosorbents to sample a wide range of compounds such as VOCs, aldehydes, amines and light-weight organic acids. The samples were analyzed with gas chromatography, high-pressure liquid chromatography and ion chromatography. Mass spectrometry was used for identification of the compounds. Alcohols and ketones were the predominant compound groups identified. The bacterial culture growing on TGEA emitted ammonia, methylamine, diethylamine and ethylamine. The third study dealt with secondary emissions collected from buildings with moisture and mould problems. Samples were taken when the materials were dry and also after they had been wet for a week. Most alcohols and ketones could be identified from the wet materials. Trimethylamine and triethylamine, were identified from sand contaminated by Bacillus. One study looked at the development of a method for analysis of primary and secondary amines with LC-MS/MS. A three-step process was developed, with the first step screening the samples for NIT derivatives with selected reaction monitoring, SRM. In the second step a precursor ion scan gave the [M+H]+ ion, and the last step involved fragmentation with a product ion scan. It was possible to separate and identify all the investigated amines, which showed that the method was both specific and selective and therefore well suited for the analysis of amines in complex environments. The last study comprised two exposure studies. In study 1 each participant took part in two exposure conditions, one with air from mouldy building materials and one with blank air for a 60 minute period. In study 2 each participant was exposed four times (for a period of 10 min) at random to air from mouldy building materials and blank air, with and without nose-clip. The participants rated air quality and symptoms before, during and after each exposure. Exposure to moderate VOC levels resulted in reports of perceived poor air quality, but no such results were received when exposing the participants to low VOC levels.