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Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

SWCOEH trainee Kelly Oyer-Peterson, JD, MPH, RN, co-authors study of compound exposure among domestic cleaners

Houston (April 7, 2022) – Kelly Oyer-Peterson, JD, MPH, RN, an Occupational Epidemiology trainee at the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) at UTHealth School of Public Health, was the first author of a pilot study on VOC exposure among domestic cleaners. The study, “A pilot study of total personal exposure to volatile organic compounds among Hispanic female domestic cleaners,” was published in Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January.

“Previous research has shown that cleaners have an elevated risk for the development or exacerbation of asthma and other respiratory conditions, possibly due to exposure to cleaning products containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” Oyer-Peterson said. “The results of this research showed that these domestic cleaners were exposed to myriad of VOCs, and, in particular, were exposed to terpene compounds, which are often found in scented cleaning products. The results also showed elevated biomarkers of inflammation and pulmonary oxidative stress among some of these cleaners, suggesting potential inflammation-related effects and cell and tissue damage related to oxidative stress. However, examining epidemiologic associations between the cleaners’ VOC exposures and biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress was beyond the scope of this pilot study.”

“At the SWCOEH, we take proud in fostering research training of our students,” said Dr. David Gimeno, PhD, SWCOEH Center Director and Occupational Epidemiology Program Director. “We aim for them to not only participate but lead research studies, and the ultimate publication of the findings in peer-review journals. Kelly has done all this and we are very proud of her and her research track.”

The study produced some unexpected findings for Oyer-Peterson.

“It was interesting to find that most women working as domestic cleaners in this study experienced higher total VOC concentrations while outside their home than inside their home. This was not unexpected finding, but could imply increased occupational VOC exposures among these women. It was also interesting, though not surprising, to find that the most common VOCs to which women were exposed were terpenes, which, as previously stated, are found in scented cleaning products.”

At the time of the pilot study, if afforded additional time and funding in future, Oyer-Peterson would aim for a larger study, targeting VOCs and specific data on time-activity and cleaning products. In fact, Oyer-Peterson is currently a member of the research team of a larger project – funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and led by Dr. Gimeno – to study these issues in more detail. The project is in collaboration with colleagues from Baylor College of Medicine and Temple University in Philadelphia.

“We are conducting a larger-scale with multiple time measurements study of domestic cleaners in San Antonio to collect comprehensive time-activity data, including cleaning products used, to again quantify total personal exposure to VOCs,” Oyer-Peterson said. “With that data, we will assess additional biomarkers of inflammation and pulmonary oxidative stress with analyses of blood, urine, and exhaled breath condensate. We are examining epidemiologic associations between the cleaners’ VOC exposures and biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress.”

The SWCOEH provides a variety of graduate-level training opportunities for occupational and environmental health professionals through our industrial hygiene, occupational and environmental medicine, occupational epidemiology, and Total Worker Health®.