Health: Study on the impact of air pollution in workplaces launched


Assessing the health effects of airborne particulate levels in relation to the microclimate in different indoor work environments. This is the aim of the study launched by Inail with ENEA, Sapienza University of Rome, University of Cagliari and CNR. "This is a new scientific investigation as part of our 'VIEPI - Integrated Assessment of Indoor Particulate Exposure' project, which studies the correlations between atmospheric particulate measurements and microclimate conditions in indoor environments, in order to understand the implications of occupational exposure", says Armando Pelliccioni, a researcher at INAIL and scientific coordinator of the VIEPI project.

"For ENEA, this is the first project it has been involved in on the subject of air quality in confined spaces, such as work and study environments. And our efforts will focus primarily on the toxicological analysis of ultrafine particles”, explains Maria Giuseppa Grollino, researcher at ENEA's Health and Environment Laboratory.

The concentration of pollutants may vary over time and depend not only on the nature of the sources but also on the ventilation, habits and activities of the occupants themselves. Moreover, exposure is a key aspect in assessing the effects of air pollution. In industrialised countries, and especially in urban environments, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, i.e. at home, in the office, in the car and in learning institutions such as schools and universities.

"In recent years there has been a need for more in-depth knowledge about indoor pollution, especially in the face of increasing scientific evidence of harmful effects on human health. And for this reason”, the INAIL researcher emphasises, “we have decided to further investigate this aspect of pollution by launching a new collaboration that involves an integrated study of workers' exposure to atmospheric particulate matter in indoor environments, with the numerical-experimental simulation of fluid-dynamic and concentration fields, on a real and laboratory scale, and the chemical, morphological and toxicological characterisation of fine and ultrafine particulate matter”.

"For the VIEPI project, the indoor pollutant we are going to study is ultrafine particulates,[1] which is the dimensional fraction that deserves the most attention because of its ability to penetrate the human body, affecting different organs such as the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and brain. These particles, made up of a complex cocktail of chemical components, can exert their toxic action on targeted organs and cause a series of important pathologies because they generate oxidative stress, weaken the immune defences and increase inflammation in the airways and the body in general", stresses the ENEA researcher.  Furthermore, it was recently found that the presence and movement of individuals is also an important source of indoor particulate matter, in addition to other indoor sources and infiltration from outside, especially from vehicle traffic. Individuals are therefore both a source and a receptor of pollution.

The ENEA research team is already at work in the laboratory on an in-vitro culture of healthy human bronchial cells. Once ready, the cell cultures will be transferred to a university lecture hall in a portable display, where they will "breathe” the same air as students and professors for a whole day. "We will use an innovative technique in the field of in vitro environmental toxicology that allows direct contact of the cell system with the ambient air. This way we will be able to study the potential toxicity of environmental pollutants under real human exposure conditions and not just in the lab”, explains Dr Grollino.

Subsequently, the bronchial cells will return to the laboratory, where the ENEA research team will perform biochemical and molecular tests to analyse the toxicological response linked to exposure to indoor pollution, by assessing the expression of genes linked to oxidative stress, inflammation and response to organic compounds. This will enable researchers to understand the potential harmful impact of indoor pollution on health by correlating the biological responses of bronchial cells with the chemical and physical characteristics of particulate matter.

"Furthermore, through the creation of indoor particulate matter concentration maps prepared by Inail and the Operating Units of Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Cagliari, we will be able to identify the dynamics behind the spatial distribution of concentrations in confined work environments. This will allow us to provide useful elements for the drafting of guidelines to identify the optimal location of workstations and potentially polluting equipment", concludes the ENEA researcher.

The VIEPI project involves the following Operational Units: Department of Construction and Environmental Civil Engineering (Sapienza University of Rome, institutional recipient, scientific director Professor Paolo Monti), Department of Environmental Civil Engineering and Architecture (University of Cagliari, scientific director Professor Giorgio Querzoli), Cnr – Institute of Atmospheric Pollution (IIA, scientific director Dr. Cinzia Perrino), Cnr – Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences (ISAC, scientific director Dr. Francesca Costabile) and ENEA – Territorial and Production Systems Sustainability Department (SSPT, scientific director Dr. Mariaṇppa Grollino).

For more information:

Maria Giuseppa Grollino, ENEA - Health and Environment Laboratory,

Armando Pelliccioni, Inail - DiMeila,


[1] The chemical composition of ultrafine particles is a complex matter and the subject of ongoing research. Put simply, these particles consist of both a carbonaceous component (organic and elemental carbon) and an inorganic component such as sulphates, nitrates, trace elements and metals, depending on their source of emission. In indoor environments some important sources of ultrafine particles include fireplaces, gas and electric cookers, cooking fumes, gas heating and tobacco smoke, as well as work equipment such as photocopiers, computers and printers.

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