Innovative tools and modeling methodology for impact prediction and assessment of the contribution of materials on indoor air quality
© Desauziers et al. 2015
Received: 30 April 2015
Accepted: 3 August 2015
Published: 22 September 2015
The combination of more and more airtight buildings and the emission of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by building, decoration and furniture materials lead to lower indoor air quality. Hence, it is an important challenge for public health but also for the preservation of cultural heritage, as for example, artworks in museum showcases and other cultural objects. Indeed, some VOCs such as organic acids or carbonyl compounds may play a role in the degradation of some metallic objects or historic papers. Thus, simple and cost effective sampling tools are required to meet the recent and growing demand of on-site diagnostic of indoor air quality, including emission source identification and their ranking.
In this aim, we developed new tools based on passive sampling (Solid-Phase Micro Extraction, SPME) to measure carbonyls compounds (including formaldehyde) and other VOCs and both in indoor air and at the material/air interface. On one hand, the coupling of SPME with a specially designed emission cell allows the screening and the quantification of the VOCs emitted by building, decoration or furniture materials. On the other hand, indoor air is simply analysed using new vacuum vial sampling combined with VOCs pre-concentration by SPME. These alternative sampling methods are energy free, compact, silent and easy to implement for on-site measurements. They show satisfactory analytical performance as detection limits range from 0.05 to 0.1 µg m−3 with an average Relative Standard Deviation (RSD) of 18 %. They already have been applied to monitoring of indoor air quality and building material emissions for a 6 months period. The data obtained were in agreement with the prediction of a physical monozonal model which considers building materials both as VOC sources and sinks and air exchange rate in one single room (“box model”).
KeywordsIndoor air quality Materials Emission VOC Formaldehyde SPME Modeling
The impact of building and decoration materials on indoor air quality (IAQ) is now well known and recognized [1, 2]. For many Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) found in indoor environments (formaldehyde, α-pinene,…), the main sources are located inside the building . Moreover, the development of low energy buildings which promotes more and more airtight constructions tends to raise indoor pollutant concentration levels. Therefore, indoor air quality became a major public health issue and, in France, a new legislation was implemented. The labeling of all building materials according to their emissions of VOCs is effective since 2013 (decree 2011-321, 23 March 2011), and the compulsory measurement of some pollutants in public buildings (formaldehyde and benzene) is being considered. In the near future, museum and libraries might be concerned.
The preservation of cultural heritage is also challenging as VOCs and carbonyl compounds may damage artwork exposed to the confined atmosphere of showcases. In this context, relevant tools are needed to perform on-site indoor air diagnosis, including emission sources identification and monitoring.
The proposed methodological approach includes a diagnosis step involving new methods relying on passive solid-phase microextraction (SPME). This technique is particularly relevant for sensitive environments (e.g. historic buildings, showcases displaying artwork, etc.) because it is non-invasive, easy to use and noiseless. Two SPME sampling methods were developed to study nine VOCs, both in indoor air and at the material/air interface [4, 5] for highlighting and quantifying emission or sink effects, and then identifying and ranking material sources. The ability to measure in situ the surface concentration of building materials allows to predict the indoor air quality by modeling approaches. The model developed here was adapted from box models which were the most widely applied to indoor environments . As a decision support tool, the model could help in the selection of low emission materials and the optimization of air exchange [7, 8].
This methodology was applied to recent buildings and some examples are presented in this paper. If the first applications aimed to support IAQ management in household and public buildings, the methodology could be easily transposed to cultural heritage issues. These examples can address libraries, museum or galleries which can be placed in new buildings. In this case, indoor VOCs differ from VOCs in old buildings but may also influence the preservation of cultural objects.
VOCs are concentrated on a SPME fibre which is then directly desorbed into the injector of a gas chromatograph (GC) coupled to mass spectrometry (MS) for analysis . A PDMS-DVB SPME fibre (Supelco, Bellafonte, PA, USA) treated with O-(2,3,4,5,6-pentafluorobenzyl)hydroxylamine hydrochloride (PFBHA) was especially developed for GC–MS analysis of carbonyl compounds including formaldehyde . As SPME is a passive sampler, the amount of pollutants adsorbed on the fibre is directly proportional to the product of the concentration of the pollutant and the exposure time, product which is called “exposure dose” and expressed in µg m−3 min [11, 12].
Air sampling was performed in 250 mL glass vials provided by Entech Instruments (Simi Valley, CA, USA) equipped with SPME-adapters [13, 14]. The vials were cleaned with wet nitrogen and evacuated until 10 mtorr before sampling thanks to a 3100A Canister Cleaner (Entech Instruments). On site, they were filled with air and then stored no longer than 2 days at room temperature (20 °C). Then, the SPME fibre was introduced into the vial for 20 min prior to its thermal desorption and analysis by GC–MS.
After sampling, the fibres were then stored up to 3 days in stainless steel tubes  and were analyzed by GC–MS.
Chromatographic analysis and target VOCs
The SPME fibres were analyzed on a Varian 3800 gas chromatograph coupled with a 1200Q quadrupole mass spectrometer (MS) (Varian, Les Ulis, France). The PTV injection port was equipped with a 0.75 mm i.d. liner and was operated at 250 °C. Acquisition was made in single ion monitoring (SIM) and scan modes.
The method was especially developed to identify and quantify nine VOCs which were selected from the compounds listed in the French regulation for material emission labeling (decree 2011-321, 23 March 2011). As buildings and showcases may contain wood-based materials, hexanal and α-pinene were included in the compound list. The target VOCs were: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, toluene, tetrachloroethylene, p-xylene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, styrene, hexanal and α-pinene.
Air exchange rate measurement
Air exchange rate was determined from the elimination kinetic of injected CO2 according to the method described in ASTM standards .
Three new buildings (or constructed less than 2 years before the measurement campaigns) were studied: a meeting room in an office building (Fig. 1a), a classroom in a high school built according to the HQE® (High Environmental Quality) French label (Fig. 1b) and the living room of an unoccupied and non-furnished house (Fig. 1c). All the buildings are located in the south west of France and measurements were made when the rooms were unoccupied in order to only consider material sources of VOCs. The high school, which is studied here in details, is located in a rural area, near a pine forest. The presented results will mostly concern the classroom for which the sampling campaigns began just after the building delivery, and took place every 2 weeks over a period of 6 months.
Building materials and furniture of the classroom
French sanitary labeling
Not supplied by the architect
Materials not concerned by the sanitary labeling
Desks (top + bottom)
Laminate + melamine resin
Limits of detection and limits of quantification determined for SPME–GC–MS analysis
LOD (µg m−3)
LOQ (µg m−3)
All the LOD and LOQ were below the µg m−3 level and the average RSD (relative standard deviation) for 6 replicates is 18 %.
Comparison of SPME and standard methods for the analysis of formaldehyde, α-pinene and styrene in indoor air
SPME C ± SD (µg m−3) (n = 3)
Standard method C ± SD (µg m−3) (n = 3)
11.5 ± 1.5
12.3 ± 1.0
101.5 ± 21.0
103.3 ± 8.1
1.3 ± 0.3
2.4 ± 1.0
Identification of material sources in the classroom
As formaldehyde is an important pollutant of indoor air, the presented results will focus on this compound.
Material source ranking
Identification of adsorption/desorption
VOCs deposit on material surfaces is also reported by the literature where sorption processes are described through laboratory chamber testings [20, 21]. These processes are rarely identified in the on-site studies. The main reported influencing factors are the boiling point and the chemical properties of the compound, the physical properties of the material, such as the surface area, and the environmental conditions . Hence, Jorgensen et al.  showed that α-pinene is better adsorbed by surface materials than toluene which is more volatile. They also demonstrated the adsorption of α-pinene on PVC flooring.
Simple, sensitive and non-destructive methods to analyze VOCs and formaldehyde in indoor air and at the material/air interface were developed. They allow in situ measurements to study materials in their real environments, by taking into account the conditions for their implementation. DOSEC measurements also permit source identification and their ranking, and the quantification of adsorption/desorption processes at the material surfaces. A predictive modeling using these new measurements as input data was also developed as a decision making tool. If the first applications aimed to support IAQ management in new buildings, the methodology is easily transposable to cultural heritage to evaluate IAQ in old and new buildings (e.g. staff and visitors exposure), to study IAQ in showcases (modeling for design support, impact of building materials on IAQ), and finally to study the impact of IAQ on sensitive materials such as artworks, papers, paints, textiles, furniture or other cultural objects.
American Society for Testing and Materials
2,4-dinitro phenyl hydrazine
device for on-site emission control
gas chromatography–mass spectrometry
high performance liquid chromatography–ultra violet detection
French label for high environmental quality buildings
indoor air quality
limit of detection
limit of quantification
Poly dimethyl siloxane–divinyl benzene
poly vinyl chloride
programmable temperature vaporizer
single ion monitoring
solid phase microextraction
volatile organic compounds
VD was the coordinator of this work as the supervisor of the PhD thesis of DB, participated to the sampling campaigns and drafted the manuscript. DB carried out the experimental part of the study (sampling campaigns and laboratory analysis) and data exploitation within the framework of her PhD thesis. PM was the co-supervisor of DB’s PhD and developed the monozonal box model. HP contributed in results interpretation. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors thank Nobatek and Christophe Cantau for his contribution to the selection of the buildings studied and information on building materials. They also acknowledge the buildings’ managers for allowing us access to their buildings.
Compliance with ethical guidelines
Competing interest The authors declare that they have no competing interest.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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