Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1999;25(4):335-341    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.443 | Issue date: Aug 1999

Asthma in tunnel workers exposed to synthetic resins

by Ulvestad B, Melbostad E, Fuglerud P

Objectives The prevalence of airway symptoms among tunnel workers exposed to synthetic resins was studied by determining methacholine responsiveness and lung function.

Methods Nineteen injection workers were compared with a group of 104 other tunnel workers with similar exposure, except for that to synthetic resins. A questionnaire on respiratory symptoms, smoking habits, use of respiratory protection, and work tasks was used. Lung function was studied using a bellows spirometer. Bronchial reactivity was tested with methacholine. Allergy screening with Phadiatop and radioallergosorbent tests for toluene-diisocyanate-HSA, diphenylmethane-4.4-diisocyanate-HSA, and formaldehyde-HSA (HSA = human serum albumin) were carried out. Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and MDI prepolymer exposure was estimated by filter sampling, and the filters were analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography. The most common work situations were simulated for an estimation of exposure to isocyanates.

Results The injection workers reported more respiratory symptoms than the reference group, and they had higher prevalences of bronchial hyperresponsiveness (37% versus 14%), asthma (26% versus 1%), and airflow limitation (37% versus 4%). Toluene-diisocyanate-HSA-specific immunoglobulin E antibodies were found in 2 of the 19 injection workers, but in none of the other tunnel workers. By simulation at a worksite, the average exposure to polymerized MDI was estimated to be 5.5–300 µg/m3 during injection work and 18–4300 µg/m3 during short-term exposure, the highest exposure occurring when cured polyurethane was ground.

Conclusions Exposure to partly decomposed MDI in tunnel work enhances the risk for respiratory symptoms, methacholine hyperresponsiveness, asthma, and airflow limitation.

The following article refers to this text: 2001;27(4):217-218