OBJECTIVES: To study the prevalence of symptoms from the eyes and the upper and lower respiratory tract, lung function, and immunological sensitisation towards isocyanates in pipelayers exposed to thermal degradation products from methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI)-based polyurethane (PUR). MATERIAL AND METHODS: 50 presently active and 113 formerly active pipelayers were examined. Also, 65 unexposed workers were investigated for comparison. The one year prevalence of symptoms and smoking history (questionnaire data), lung function (vital capacity (VC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), and atopy (positive skin prick tests towards standard allergens) were assessed among pipelayers and controls. For the pipelayers, the presence of work related symptoms and estimates of isocyanate and welding exposure were obtained from an interview. Skin prick tests towards specific isocyanate antigens and determinations of IgE-MDI and IgG-MDI in serum were also performed. RESULTS: The prevalence of episodes (more than once a month) of irritative eye symptoms, congestion of the nose, and soreness or dryness in the throat was much higher among the PUR pipelayers than among the controls. Most of the pipelayers with symptoms reported that these had started and occurred in relation to the PUR welding tasks. Presently active pipelayers with recent high PUR exposure showed a significant reduction of FEV1 compared with the controls. The estimated reduction, adjusted for smoking, was -0.3 l (P = 0.04). There was no confounding effect of ordinary welding. None of the pipelayers showed positive skin prick reactions against the specific isocyanate antigens used, or positive IgE-MDI, and only two had increased IgG-MDI. CONCLUSIONS: The findings indicate that exposure to thermal degradation products from MDI-based polyurethane has adverse effects on the mucous membranes and airways.
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