In a previous study assessing respiratory symptoms in individuals employed in wool textile mills in the north of England relations between symptoms of chronic bronchitis, breathlessness and wheeze, and rhinitis and current exposure to airborne mass concentration of dust were shown. As preliminary steps in defining the potential hazard associated with dust from the air of wool mills the ability of inspirable dust, collected from the air of wool textile mills, to cause inflammation when injected into the lungs of rats was determined. Dusts were collected from the beginning of wool processing (opening) in one factory and from the middle (combing) and late (backwinding) stages of the process in two other factories. Ability of the dusts to cause inflammation was assessed by instillation into the lungs of rats followed by bronchoalveolar lavage. All the dusts caused some inflammation which peaked on day 1 and did not persist beyond one week. A distinctive aggregation response of mononuclear cells in the lavage, however, had a different time course, peaking at day 7. An attempt was made to determine how the wool mill dusts caused inflammation and experiments showed that the dusts themselves had no inherent chemotactic activity but that they did have a pronounced ability to generate chemotaxins in serum and so could activate complement in lung fluid. In addition, dust collected from ledges in the mills had the ability to injure epithelial cells in vitro which could also contribute to inflammation. A role for endotoxin in the inflammatory activity of the dusts was not discounted and a leachate of the dust had the ability to cause inflammation when injected into the lungs of rats. Wool mill dust is likely to be a complex mixture of materials and these experiments represent a preliminary approach to understanding the biological activity of the whole unfractionated dust and further studies are in progress to define more accurately the toxic material(s) in the dust.
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