At high occupational exposures, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are linked to negative respiratory outcomes. It was uncertain whether exposure levels reported in the general population had comparable consequences.

For a study, researchers examined information on 1,342 adults who were ≥18 years and had urine VOC metabolites and spirometry measures available from the 2011–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In order to provide nationally representative data, linear regression models with covariate adjustments were used to quantify the relationships between VOC exposure levels and spirometry results.

In the investigation, >75% of subjects had urinary metabolite levels of xylene, acrylamide, acrolein, 1,3-butadiene, cyanide, toluene, 1-bromopropane, acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, styrene, ethylbenzene, and crotonaldehyde identified. The ratio of the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) to the forced vital capacity (FVC) was lower when urine metabolites of acrylamide (β: -2.65, 95% CI: -4.32, -0.98), acrylonitrile (β: −1.02, 95% CI: −2.01, −0.03), and styrene (β: −3.13, 95% CI: −5.35, −0.90) were present Acrolein (β: −7.77, 95% CI: −13.29, −2.25), acrylonitrile (β: −2.05, 95% CI: −3.77, −0.34), propylene oxide (β: −2.90, 95% CI: −5.50, −0.32), and styrene (β: −4.41, 95% CI: −6.97, −1.85) urine metabolites were associated with decreased FEV1% predicted.

It was the first research to show links between urine metabolites of acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, and styrene with decreased lung function after non-occupational exposures in adults in the United States. Additionally, the results were consistent with earlier research linking acrylamide and acrolein to poor respiratory outcomes.