Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1997;23(5):385-391    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.236

Sensitization to industrial enzymes in enzyme research and production

by Vanhanen M, Tuomi T, Nordman H, Tupasela O, Holmberg PC, Miettinen M, Mutanen P, Leisola M

Objectives This study investigated sensitization to industrial enzymes in Finnish enzyme production and in Finnish laboratories.

Methods A cross-sectional study was conducted in 2 plants producing industrial enzymes and in their product development and research laboratories. Sensitization to enzymes and environmental allergens was examined by skin prick tests and specific immunoglobulin E determinations (radioallergosorbent test). The employees were interviewed for work-related respiratory symptoms. Altogether 173 employees were examined.

Results The skin prick test showed 21 employees (12%) to be sensitized to one or more enzymes. Sixteen positive persons also had specific immunoglobulin E. Atopy was distinctly associated with enzyme sensitization. An exposure-response relationship was found for enzyme sensitization and for respiratory symptoms during work. For sensitization, the exposure-response linear trend was statistically significant. It weakened but remained statistically significant after stratification for atopy. For symptoms, likewise, the exposure-response linear trend was statistically significant, and the statistical significance remained after stratification for atopy.

Conclusion The study confirmed that industrial enzymes are potent sensitizers. The handling of dry enzymes in laboratory work may cause sensitization. Sensitization may even follow minute degrees of exposure, such as among office personnel. Atopics are more susceptible to sensitization than nonatopics. Nonatopics are also clearly at risk; the demonstrated exposure-response relationship emphasizes the need for and advantages of proper exposure control.