Ran across this today on Scientific American's website: a new study from Sweden claiming to find an association between vapors of common household chemicals (such as those found in water-based paint) and childhood incidence of allergic disease including asthma and eczema.
The research was published in an online journal called PLoS ONE. PLoS ONE, for those of you not in academia, is not in the first few tiers of scientific journals. Pretty much anyone can get their work published in PLoS ONE: you pay to get in, and the attraction is that the review process is fast. So you can't give the report that much weight. But someone thought that it was important to conduct this study. I appreciate that.
In short: For parents: if your kid's room has high levels of the chemicals propylene glycol and glycol ethers-- which are found in household cleaners and are outgassed by virtually every product of modern manufacturing--the authors claim that your kid has a 60% higher chance of developing eczema. ("Odds ratio 1.6" is how they put it.) The numbers are more convincing for asthma and allergic rhinitis.
The authors speculate that the chemicals may irritate the mucous membranes of the airways and thus induce inflammation...the connection gets a little vague.
What can you do? Before your kid is born, don't paint his or her room to make the nursery look nice. Apparently water-based paints contain these chemicals, and release them over time. So: oil-based paints then? I suspect they aren't so great either. Just don't paint.