Home Carpets Catch
& Hold Benzene From
Car Exhaust
By Merritt McKinney

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Warning: Your house could be hazardous to your health. New study results from Europe show that exposure to benzene, a cancer-causing chemical produced by car exhaust, may be greatest at home -- not outside during rush hour when the roads are jammed.
Carpets, wood and other absorbent materials may raise indoor pollution levels by trapping the chemical in the home, according to a report in the March 9th issue of the journal Nature.
Long-term exposure to benzene released by cars is responsible for about 4 cases of leukemia for every 1 million people, according to a team of researchers led by Dr. Vincenzo Cocheo, of the Fondazione Salvatore Maugeri-IRCCS in Padova, Italy. To measure exposure to benzene, Cocheo's team equipped 50 volunteers in six European cities with air samplers to be worn continuously for 5 days.
All participants were nonsmokers and represented a mix of occupations exposed to high levels of traffic fumes, such as traffic police officers, and those exposed to low levels, such as office workers.
Even though levels of benzene in outdoor air tended to be higher in cities in southern Europe, indoor exposure to benzene was higher in northern Europe than in all but one of the southern cities, according to the report. The researchers estimate that people spend nearly 60% of the day at home, making the impact of indoor pollution important.
According to Cocheo's team, benzene most likely enters the home from outside air, and then becomes trapped inside by absorbent materials.
``This idea is supported by the lower indoor pollution in southern European towns. In northern European houses, carpets, linoleum and wood surfaces are favored, whereas tiling, marble and bare walls are typically used in southern Europe,'' the authors conclude.
Unfortunately, the best way to reduce benzene levels is to remove carpets and other absorbent materials from the home, according to Cocheo. However, he told Reuters Health that opening windows and doors to ventilate your home may reduce benzene levels. But there is a catch. Benzene levels in outside air peak during the day, when more cars are on the road, so it is better to ventilate your house at night, when levels are lower, Cocheo advised. SOURCE: Nature 2000;404:141-142.


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