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Occup Med (Lond). 2000 Jul;50(5):337-42.

Occupational ceramic fibres dermatitis in Poland.

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Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, Lodz, Poland.


Recently, the use of asbestos has been considerably limited in Poland, with the simultaneous increase in the manufacture, processing and application of man-made mineral fibres, which includes ceramic fibres. The aims of this study were (1) to assess the type and frequency of dermal changes caused by the irritant activity of ceramic fibres among workers at the plants that manufacture packing and insulation products; and (2) to compare the irritant activity of Polish-made L-2 and L-3 ceramic fibres with that of the Thermowool ceramic fibres made in England. Workers (n = 226) who were exposed to ceramic fibres underwent dermatological examination. Patch tests with the standard allergen set, together with samples of the fibres L-2, L-3, and Thermowool fibres, were applied to all the workers. It has been shown that the Polish-made L-2 and L-3 fibres differed from Thermowool fibres in that the L-2 and L-3 fibres contained zirconium and were coarser. The proportion of filaments with diameters above 3 microns was 11.1% in the L-3 fibre and 6.3% in the L-2 fibre samples. The Thermowool fibre did not contain filaments thicker than 3 microns. Evident dermal changes, resulting from strong irritant activity of the fibres, were detected in 109 (48.2%) of the workers examined. Irritant contact dermatitis acuta (maculae, sometimes papulae and small crusts on the upper extremities, trunk, and lower extremities), disappearing after 2-3 days, was found in 50 (22.1%) workers. Irritant contact dermatitis chronica (diffuse permanent erythema with numerous telangiectasiae on the lateral portions of the face and neck, on the trunk, behind the auricles) was detected in 40 (17.7%) workers. The remaining 19 (8.4%) workers had both types of dermal change. All examined workers complained of very strong itching. The results of the patch tests confirmed the irritant activity of the ceramic fibres. Erythema without oedema, persisting for up to 96 h, appeared at the places where the fibres had been applied to the skin in 44 (19.5%) workers. In addition, the irritant activity of the fibres has been shown to be correlated with their thickness. The Thermowool fibre was the weakest irritant, because it did not contain filaments above 3 microns in diameter; the L-2 fibre containing 6.3% filaments above 3 microns caused somewhat stronger skin irritation; while the L-3 fibre, which contained 11.1% filaments thicker than 3 microns, was the strongest irritant. A few cases of allergy to nickel, chromium and colophony (rosin) were also detected.

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