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Respiratory health surveillance in a toluene di-isocyanate production unit, 1967–97: clinical observations and lung function analyses
  1. M Gerald Otta,
  2. Julia E Kleesa,
  3. Sandy L Pocheb
  1. aCorporate Medical Department, BASF Corporation, Mount Olive, NJ, USA, bGeismar Medical Department, BASF Corporation, Geismar, LA, USA
  1. Dr M G Ott, Corporate Medical Department, BASF Corporation, Mount Olive, NJ 07828–1234, USA


OBJECTIVES To characterise irritant and allergic airway responses and assess changes in forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) relative to exposure to toluene di-isocyanate (TDI).

METHODS Employees (n=313) ever assigned to a TDI production unit for ⩾3 months (1967–92) were identified from personnel records along with 158 frequency matched referents without known exposure to TDI. Reports made during visits to the occupational clinic of incidents related to exposure to TDI and annual periodic examination results (questionnaire, physical findings, and spirometry) were abstracted and assessed relative to industrial hygiene estimates of exposure to TDI.

RESULTS Mean 8 hour time weighted average estimates of TDI concentrations ranged from 9.9 ppb in jobs with potentially high exposure during the early years of plant operations to 0.5 ppb in jobs with potentially low exposure in more recent years. The corresponding rates of visits to the clinic due to incidents of exposure to TDI (including both irritant and allergic airway responses) declined from 20.5 to 1.0 visits per 100 years of employment at the unit. The annual incidence of asthma induced by TDI declined from 1.8% before 1980 to 0.7% afterwards. Neither cross sectional nor longitudinal analyses of FVC and FEV1 showed significant dose-response findings relative to exposure to TDI across the total exposed population. Among cases of occupational asthma there was an apparent initial decline in FEV1 within 2 years of first reporting symptoms, but not an accelerated rate of decline in follow up tests from 4–30 years after induction of asthma.

CONCLUSIONS Occurrences of both asthma induced by TDI and irritant airway responses due to exposure to TDI were found in this cohort, but there was no relation between cumulative exposure to TDI and irreversible airflow obstruction as assessed by spirometry.

  • toluene di-isocyanate
  • lung function decrement
  • occupational asthma

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