A study was carried out to assess possible effects of low concentrations of hydrogen sulphide on respiratory function. The cohort comprised 26 male pulp mill workers (mean age 40.3, range 22-60 years) with a daily exposure to hydrogen sulphide in the workplace, and 10 volunteers, who had asthma (three men, mean age 40.7, range 33 to 50 years, and seven women, mean age 44.1, range 31 to 61 years). The respiratory function of the pulp mill workers was monitored by measuring forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), and bronchial responsiveness after at least one day off work and at the end of a workday. Bronchial responsiveness was tested by challenge with histamine. The 10 asthmatic subjects were exposed in laboratory conditions to 2 ppm of hydrogen sulphide for 30 minutes in an exposure chamber. Airway resistance (Raw) and specific airway conductance (SGaw) were assessed by a body plethysmograph, and the ventilatory capacities were measured with a flow volume spirometer. No significant changes in respiratory function or bronchial responsiveness related to exposure to hydrogen sulphide in the pulp mill workers were found. In the asthmatic subjects, Raw was increased by 26.3% and SGaw was decreased by 8.4% on average after exposure to hydrogen sulphide. These changes were not statistically significant. In two subjects, however, changes were greater than 30% in both Raw and SGaw, indicating bronchial obstruction. It is concluded that exposure for a relatively short time to hydrogen sulphide concentrations appreciably higher than those existing in ambient air do not cause noticeable effects on respiratory function.
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