New research demonstrates high body emissions during workouts, aggravated by chemical cleaning agent reactions

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According to a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder, one sweating, panting, exercising person releases as many chemicals from their body as up to five sedentary people.

In particular, these human pollutants, including sweat amino acids or breath acetone, combine chemically with bleach to form new airborne chemicals of unknown effects on the quality of indoor air.

‘Humans are a major source of indoor pollution,’ says CIRES researcher Zachary Finewax, lead author of the new study published in the current Indoor Air issue. “And chemicals in indoor air, whether from our bodies or cleaning products, don’t just go away; they linger and travel through spaces like gyms and react with other chemicals.”

In 2018, the CU Boulder team equipped a weight room with a suite of air sampling equipment in the Dal Ward Athletic Center – a campus facility for student athletes at the university, from weightlifters to cheerleaders.

The devices gathered data from both the weight room and the incoming air, measuring in real time a number of airborne chemicals before, after and after the workouts of CU athletes.

The team found that, during exercise, the bodies of the athletes emitted 3 to 5 times more emissions than when they were at rest.

With our state-of-the-art facilities, this was the first time an indoor air study of this level of sophistication has been conducted in a gym.

In real time, we were able to capture emissions to see exactly how many chemicals were released by the athletes and at what pace,’ said Demetrios Pagonis, CIRES postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the new paper.
Many gyms also use items based on chlorine bleach to disinfect sweaty equipment.

And although surface bacteria destroy these cleaning materials, they also combine with sweat emissions to form a new cocktail of chemicals.

The team was the first to observe a chemical group in gym air called N-chlorodimines – a bleach reaction product with amino acids.

This meant that chlorine from bleach sprayed on the equipment responded, the authors report, with amino acids produced by sweating bodies.

And although further research is required to evaluate the particular effects on the quality of indoor air, chemically similar ammonia reaction products with bleach could be harmful to human health.

“Since we humans spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, it is critical that we understand how chemicals behave in the spaces we inhabit,”Since we humans spend about 90% of our time indoors, it is critical that we understand how chemicals function in the spaces we inhabit.

While before the pandemic, the researchers gathered all the data for this report, the team says their findings show that a modern gym with low occupancy and good ventilation can still be reasonably safe for a workout, especially if masks are used.

Zachary Finewax, Demetrios Pagonis, Megan S., reference: “Quantification and source characterization of volatile organic compounds from exercising and application of chlorine-based cleaning products in a university athletic center”

Anne V. Handschy, Claflin, Wyatt L.

Brown, Benjamin A. Nault, Olivia Jenks, Douglas A.

Day, Brian M. Lerner, Paul J. Ziemann, Jose L. Jimenez, and Joost A. De Gouw, 18 December 2020, DOI: 10.1111/ina.12781 Indoor Air.
Published in Wiley’s Indoor Air on December 18, 2020. ‘Quantification and source characterization of volatile organic compounds from the exercise and application of chlorine-based cleaning products at a university athletic center.’

Authors include: Demetrios Pagonis (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Zachary Finewax (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Megan S.

Anne V. Handschy (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Claflin (Aerodyne Research), Wyatt L.

Brown (CIRES, Boulder Chemistry CU), Benjamin A. Nault (CIRES, Boulder Chemistry CU), Olivia Jenks (CIRES, Boulder Chemistry CU), Douglas A.

Day (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Jose L. Jimenez (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Brian M. Lerner (Aerodyne Research), Paul J. Ziemann (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry), Joost A. Gouw, de Gouw (CIRES, CU Boulder Chemistry).

The authors would like to thank the Sloan Foundation and the Dal Ward Athletic Center at CU Boulder for financing the measurements and instrumentation used in this study and for using their facilities to collect all the data for this work.

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