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Physician diagnosed asthma, respiratory symptoms, and associations with workplace tasks among radiographers in Ontario, Canada
  1. G M Liss1,
  2. S M Tarlo1,
  3. J Doherty1,
  4. J Purdham1,
  5. J Greene1,
  6. L McCaskell2,
  7. M Kerr3
  1. 1Gage Occupational and Environmental Health Unit, University of Toronto, Canada
  2. 2Ontario Public Service Employees Union
  3. 3Institute for Work & Health
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr G M Liss, Gage Occupational and Environmental Health Unit, 655 Bay Street, 14th Floor, Toronto, ON, Canada M7A 1T7; 


Background: Medical radiation technologists (MRTs) or radiographers have potential exposure to chemicals including sensitisers and irritants such as glutaraldehyde, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, and acetic acid.

Aims: To determine the prevalence of asthma and work related respiratory symptoms among MRTs compared with physiotherapists, and to identify work related factors in the darkroom environment that are associated with these outcomes.

Methods: As part of a two component study, we undertook a questionnaire mail survey of the members of the professional associations of MRTs and physiotherapists in Ontario, Canada, to ascertain the prevalence of physician diagnosed asthma, and the prevalence in the past 12 months of three or more of the nine respiratory symptoms (previously validated by Venables et al to be sensitive and specific for the presence of self reported asthma). Information on exposure factors during the past 12 months, such as ventilation conditions, processor leaks, cleanup activities, and use of personal protective equipment was also collected.

Results: The survey response rate was 63.9% among MRTs and 63.1% among physiotherapists. Most analyses were confined to 1110 MRTs and 1523 physiotherapists who never smoked. The prevalence of new onset asthma (since starting in the profession) was greater among never smoking MRTs than physiotherapists (6.4% v 3.95%), and this differed across gender: it was 30% greater among females but fivefold greater among males. Compared with physiotherapists, the prevalence of reporting three or more respiratory symptoms, two or more work related, and three or more work related respiratory symptoms in the past 12 months was more frequent among MRTs, with odds ratios (ORs) (and 95% confidence intervals) adjusted for age, gender, and childhood asthma, of 1.9 (1.5 to 2.3), 3.7 (2.6 to 5.3), and 3.2 (2.0 to 5.0), respectively. Analyses examining latex glove use indicated that this was not likely to account for these differences. Among MRTs, respiratory symptoms were associated with a number of workplace and exposure factors likely to generate aerosol or chemical exposures such as processors not having local ventilation, adjusted OR 2.0 (1.4 to 3.0); leaking processor in which clean up was delayed, 2.4 (1.6 to 3.5); floor drain clogged, 2.0 (1.2 to 3.2); freeing a film jam, 2.9 (1.8 to 4.8); unblocking a blocked processor drain, 2.4 (1.6 to 3.7); and cleaning up processor chemical spill, 2.8 (1.9 to 4.2). These outcomes were not associated with routine tasks unlikely to generate exposures, such as working outside primary workplace, loading film into processor, routine cleaning of processors, or removing processed film. Males reported that they carried out a number of tasks potentially associated with irritant exposures more frequently than females, consistent with the marked increase in risk for new onset asthma.

Conclusions: These findings suggest an increase of work related asthma and respiratory symptoms shown to denote asthma among MRTs, which is consistent with previous surveys. The mechanism is not known but appears to be linked with workplace factors and may involve a role for irritant exposures.

  • radiographer
  • new onset asthma
  • glutaraldehyde
  • work related respiratory symptoms
  • CI, confidence interval
  • GA, glutaraldehyde
  • MRT, medical radiation technologist
  • OA, occupational asthma
  • OAMRT, Ontario Association of Medical Radiation Technologists
  • OR, odds ratio
  • PPE, personnel protective equipment
  • Respsx3m, three or more respiratory symptoms
  • WR, work related
  • WRresp2m, two or more work related respiratory symptoms

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