A follow-up study of the respiratory health status of automotive spray painters exposed to paints containing isocyanates.
Randolph, Bernard Winston.
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In order to evaluate the respiratory health status of spray painters exposed to paints containing hexamethylene diisocyanates (HDI) and to obtain more insight into the relationship between occupational exposures to isocyanates and chronic obstructive airway diseases, a follow up study on 33 of an original cohort of 40 randomly selected workers was undertaken. The original investigation was conducted by the author in 1989. The subjects were studied using a standardised American Thoracic Society (ATS) approved respiratory health questionnaire, baseline pre and post shift spirometry and ambulatory peak flow monitoring. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness tests using histamine (PC20) were performed. Immunological tests including IgE, RAST (HDI), and house dust mite evaluations were also made. The subjects were stratified into exposed (n=20), partially exposed (n=5) and no longer exposed (n=7) groups. One subject was excluded from the group analysis because of his indeterminate isocyanate exposure. Warehouse assistants (n=30) in a non-exposed occupation were used as controls. The worker's compliance with safety regulations and the employers provision of safety requirements was assessed by means of a questionnaire. The environmental conditions in the workplace were measured by the evaluation of the isocyanate concentrations at the worker's breathing zone. Spray booth efficiency was measured using measurements of airflow velocities and airflow patterns within the booth. Longitudinal changes in respiratory health status was assessed by comparison with baseline data studied in 1989. The exposed group showed the largest mean cross-shift declines of 297 ml (± 83.8) in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). The decline in the partially exposed group was 282 ml (± 102.7) and 54 ml (± 140) in the no longer exposed group. The results of the first study, when compared with the second study, showed a mean cross-shift decline in FEV1 of 130.5 ml. (± 203) (p=0.0002) and 297ml. (± 323) (p=0.0001) respectively. Furthermore, of the spray painters examined, 10 (25%) showed clinically significant cross-shift declines in FEV1 viz. decreases >250 ml in the first study (n=40) compared with 9 (45%) in the second study (n=33). In contrast to the HDI exposed spray painters, a closely matched control group (n=30) showed a mean cross-shift increase in FEV1 of 17.4 ml ( ± 63.04). Only 2 subjects had a diagnosis of asthma which was made in childhood and not related to occupation. The mean annual baseline decline in FEV1 was greatest in the exposed group 41.25 ml (25% showed a decline greater than >90 ml per annum). These values exceeded the predicted annual declines for both smokers and non smokers due to age. The decline in the no longer exposed group was 7.85 ml per annum. Immunological tests showed no correlation with declines in FEV1 . This study demonstrates the difficulties in correlating immunological status with clinical and lung function findings in workers exposed to HDI, as a means of predicting occupational asthma. Although measurements in cross-shift declines in FEV1 appear to be a suitable predictor of occupational asthma, in some cases it was found that the forced expiratory flow rate (FEF 25-75 %) was a more sensitive predictor of early changes in the small airways. The mean isocyanate concentration in the spray painter's breathing zone was 14.65 mg/m3 (±12.219), exceeding the current South African Occupational Exposure Limit - Control Limit (OEL-CL) of 0.07 mg/m3 for isocyanates. Fifty per cent of the subjects suffered from eye irritation and 40% had dermatitis of the hand. This was expected since none of the spray painters wore goggles or gloves. Whilst no subject had evidence of clinical asthma related to spray painting, a large proportion demonstrated significant cross- shift changes in lung function implying short- term adverse effects of exposure. In addition longitudinal declines in lung function which was worse in those who continued spray painting in the follow-up study, is of major concern. The lack of cases of clinical or occupational asthma may be due to the healthy worker effect. Recommendations include, routine spirometric lung function testing of all spray painters, the use of high volume-low pressure spray guns and the wearing of positive pressure airline masks complying with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) safety standard. In terms of current legislation it was further recommended that spray booths be regularly monitored, including the measurement of HDI concentrations, airflow velocities and airflow patterns within the booth and the implementation and enforcement of stricter control measures. Workers demonstrating excessive declines in both cross-shift and longitudinal spirometry, require special attention.