Air pollution in the workplace, which has an impact on health. A scientific investigation is underway

The ENEA research team is already working in the laboratory on the in vitro culture of healthy human bronchial cells; once ready, the cell cultures will be transferred to a university classroom, via a portable display, and will “breathe” the same air of students and professors for a whole day

Rome, March 30, 2022 – Assessment of the health effects of airborne particle levels in relation to the microclimate in different indoor work environments. This is the subject of the study launched by Inail with ENEA, La Sapienza University in Rome, the University of Cagliari and the Cnr.

“This is a new scientific investigation within the framework of our project ‘VIEPI – Integrated Assessment of Indoor Particulate Exposure’ which focuses on the study of correlations between measurements of atmospheric particles and micro-climatic conditions in indoor environments. , to understand the implications related to occupational exposure”, emphasizes Armando Pelliccioni, Inail researcher and scientific coordinator of the VIEPI project.

“For ENEA, this is the first project that sees it intervene on the issue of air quality in confined environments, such as those of work and study. And our task will notably concern the toxicological analysis of ultrafine particles,” explains Maria Giuseppa Grollino, researcher at the ENEA Health and Environment Laboratory.

The concentration of pollutants can vary over time and depends not only on the nature of the sources but also on the ventilation, habits and activities carried out by the occupants themselves. In addition, exposure is a key aspect in assessing the effects of air pollution. In industrialized countries, and particularly in urban areas, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, i.e. at home, in the office, in the car and in places where they work. education such as schools and universities.

“In recent years, the need has arisen to deepen knowledge on indoor pollution, particularly in the face of increasing scientific evidence on the harmful effects on human health. And for this – underlines the Inail researcher – we have decided to deepen this aspect of pollution by starting a new collaboration, which provides for an integrated study of the exposure of workers to atmospheric particles in the indoor environment, with digital simulation . fluid dynamics and concentration fields, at real scale and in the laboratory, and the chemical, morphological and toxicological characterization of fine and ultrafine particles”.

“For the VIEPI project, the indoor pollutant we will study is ultrafine particulate matter, which is the dimensional fraction that deserves more attention due to its ability to enter the human body, affecting different organs, such as the lungs , the heart, the liver, the kidneys and the brain.These particles, made up of a complex cocktail of chemical components, can exert their toxic action on target organs and cause a series of important pathologies because they generate oxidative stress, a weakening of the immune defenses and an increase in inflammation of the respiratory tract and the body in general”, underlines the ENEA researcher.

Moreover, it has recently been shown that the presence and movement of individuals also constitute a major source of fine indoor particles, which are added to other internal sources and to infiltration from the outside, in particular from automobile traffic. Individuals are therefore both a source and a receiver of the pollution itself.

The ENEA research team is already working in the laboratory on the in vitro culture of healthy human bronchial cells; Once ready, the cell cultures will be transferred to a university classroom, through a portable display, and will “breathe”, for a whole day, the same air of students and professors.

“We will use an innovative technique in the field of in vitro environmental toxicology which allows direct contact of the cellular system with the ambient air. In this way, we will be able to study the potential toxicity of environmental pollutants under conditions of real human exposure and not only in the laboratory”, explains Dr Grollino.

Subsequently, the bronchial cells will return to the laboratory, where the ENEA research team will carry out biochemical and molecular tests to analyze the toxicological response related to exposure to indoor pollution, through the evaluation of gene expression related to oxidative stress, inflammation and response to organic compounds. This will allow researchers to understand the potentially harmful impact of indoor pollution on health, by correlating the biological responses enacted by bronchial cells and the physicochemical characteristics of particulate matter.

“In addition, thanks to the creation of indoor particle concentration maps, essentially edited by Inail and by the operational units of La Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Cagliari, we will be able to identify the dynamics at the “origin of the spatial distribution of concentrations in confined work environments. This will allow us to provide useful elements for drafting guidelines to identify the optimal location of workstations and potentially polluting instrumentation”, concludes the ENEA researcher.

The ‘VIEPI’ project involves the following Operational Units: Department of Civil Engineering, Building and Environment (La Sapienza University of Rome, institutional beneficiary, scientific director Prof. Paolo Monti), Department of Civil Engineering of the Environment and of Architecture (University of Cagliari, head of Prof. Giorgio Querzoli), Cnr – Institute of Atmospheric Pollution (IIA, scientific director Dr. Cinzia Perrino), Cnr – Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC, scientific director Dr. Francesca Costabile) and ENEA – Department of Productive Sustainability and Territorial Systems (SSPT, scientific director Dr. Maria Giuseppa Grollino).

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