People are exposed to SVOCs through various routes and sources. Diet is usually the most important source of exposure. Exposure through house dust and indoor air is estimated to be significantly lower. However, the proportions of different sources of overall exposure vary in accordance with the exposed demographic group. For example, the proportion of exposure to certain SVOCs through the respiratory tract may be higher among small children, smokers and occupationally exposed workers.
Products and materials used in indoor environments that contain SVOCs include, for example, electrical and electronic equipment, various plastic products, furniture, interior textiles, cosmetic and hygienic products and building materials. This review assessed the research data related to indoor environments, in particular.
Common SVOC groups with health issues were selected for the review
Six broad substance groups were selected for the review. These substances are common ingredients of consumer products and materials or they are currently discussed widely due to the health issues related to them. The substance groups are brominated fire retardants (BFRs), organophosphorus flame retardants (OPFRs), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), chlorinated paraffins (CPs), phthalates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The exposure of the Finnish population to SVOCs is, in general, at an acceptable level, but regular monitoring is needed
According to the review, the exposure of the Finnish population to SVOCs is, in general, at an acceptable level. According to current assessment, exposure to phthalates, BFRs, OPFRs, CPs or PAHs does not cause a significant health risk to the Finnish population. However, more data on the exposure of children and young people and the combined effects of the compounds is needed. Moreover, the exposure of general population should be monitored regularly.
Exposure to PFASs may pose a health risk to a part of the Finnish population
PFASs are a large group of substances used, for example, in interior textiles, technical clothing, non-stick surfaces of cookware, paint and electrical and electronic equipment. In a proportion of Finns the PFAS exposure exceeds the health-based guidance values. However, it is difficult to assess the exposure more closely as the latest exposure data on the general population in Finland is nearly ten years old.
“PFASs are studied extensively in Europe at the moment, and THL is releasing new data on children's exposure in Finland shortly,” says Senior Researcher Merja Korkalainen from THL.
According to the most recent risk assessment, the exposure of 14% of young people in Europe is higher than the health-based guidance value set for the sum of four key PFAS compounds.
“However, it must be noted that exceeding health-based guidance values does not directly result in adverse health effects, but the likelihood of those effects will slowly start to increase. Moreover, guidance values include a safety margin that takes into account the uncertainties in risk assessment, providing thus additional safety,” adds Korkalainen.
More restrictions for harmful compounds to be introduced in Europe
“The research and risk assessment of chemicals and their combined effects is active in Europe,” says Senior Specialist Kaisa Wallenius from FIOH.
“Various compounds that are known to be harmful are restricted in the EU. Due to the restrictions, the concentrations of several phthalates, PFASs and BFRs have started to decline in human biomonitoring studies. New restrictions are also being prepared partly proactively even if there is no full certainty about health or environmental risks.”
FIOH and THL will arrange a webinar about the SVOC review in September.
The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare carried out the review on semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs) as part of the Finnish Indoor Air and Health Programme. No similar reviews have been previously carried out in Finland. The Finnish Indoor Air and Health Programme aims to improve health and well-being by reducing indoor environment issues in Finland. The programme is co-ordinated by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and actively contributed to by FIOH, Filha ry, the Organisation for Respiratory Health in Finland, the Finnish Allergy, Skin and Asthma Federation and the Finnish Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate. The programme will implement the means to promote health and well-being set by the Government’s Healthy Premises 2028 programme.
Review (in Finnish): Sisäympäristöissä esiintyvät puolihaihtuvat orgaaniset yhdisteet (SVOC). Väestön altistuminen ja terveysriskit (in Finnish). Kaisa Wallenius, Merja Korkalainen, Simo Porras, Hanna Hovi, Siri Holma, Suvi Ahtinen, Jani Koponen, Kati Huttunen, Panu Rantakokko. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare 2023
Kaisa Wallenius, Senior Specialist, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, tel. +358 (0)50 514 5993, kaisa.wallenius[at]ttl.fi
Merja Korkalainen, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. +358 (0)29 524 6318, merja.korkalainen[at]thl.fi
Panu Rantakokko, Research Manager, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, tel. +358 (0)29 524 6395, panu.rantakokko[at]thl.fi