OBJECTIVES: To assess the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and to measure spirometry in a sample of employees of Birmingham International Airport, United Kingdom, to examine whether occupational exposure to aircraft fuel or jet stream exhaust might be associated with respiratory symptoms or abnormalities of lung function. METHODS: Cross sectional survey by questionnaire and on site measurement of lung function, skin prick tests, and exhaled carbon monoxide concentrations. Occupational exposure was assigned by job title, between group comparison were made by logistic regression analysis. RESULTS: 222/680 full time employees were studied (mean age 38.6 y, 63% male, 28% current smokers, 6% self reported asthma, 19% self reported hay fever). Upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms were common and 51% had one or more positive skin tests. There were no significant differences in lung function tests between exposure groups. Between group comparisons of respiratory symptoms were restricted to male members of the medium and high exposure groups. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for cough with phlegm and runny nose were found to be significantly associated with high exposure (OR 3.5, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.23 to 9.74 and 2.9, 1.32 to 6.40 respectively) when the measured confounding effects of age and smoking, and in the case of runny nose, self reported hay fever had been taken into account. There was no obvious association between high exposure and the presence of shortness of breath or wheeze, or for the symptoms of watering eyes or stuffy nose. CONCLUSIONS: These findings support an association in male airport workers, between high occupational exposures to aviation fuel or jet stream exhaust and excess upper and lower respiratory tract symptoms, in keeping with a respiratory irritant. It is more likely that these effects reflect exposure to exhaust rather than fuel, although the effects of an unmeasured agent cannot be discounted.
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