Construction materials pose a significant risk to human health. This results from the moment the materials arrive on-site, to long after the building activity has been completed.1 Studies conducted as part of the state of Washington’s East Campus Plus Program showed that 96 percent of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in a large office building following construction were due to the materials used to construct and furnish the building.2 The volatiles released when handling materials such as sealants, carpeting, paints and adhesives include formaldehyde, toluene, xylenes, and other VOCs that are known toxins to human health.

Studies have shown that construction workers have high overall mortality rates which are independent of social class. These include increased mortality risks for all malignant neoplasms including lungs, stomach and thyroid gland, high levels of mesothelioma deaths and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.3Much of this research is unknown to the workforce and there are limited controls in place to mitigate the risks.

SIFT-MS can quickly determine whether a site or a building material is a safe working environment, by reporting on a plethora of compounds in real-time. Research using SIFT-MS is also underway to ascertain the wait time – after using high VOC releasing materials such as sealants and paints – until the concentrations of volatiles in ambient air are significantly reduced to levels deemed safe for human exposure.


  2. Airfaqs, Vol 4, Issue 1, Fall 1996; cited here–iaq-and-the-building-enclosure/8/
  3. Snashall, “Preventing occupational ill health in the construction industry”, Occup. Environ. Med., 2007, 64, 789–790 (doi: 10.1136/oem.2007.033639).

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