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Eur Respir J. 1999 May;13(5):1144-50.

Pulmonary effects of short-term exposure to low levels of toluene diisocyanate in asymptomatic subjects.

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Dept of Chest Medicine, University Hospital of Mont-Godinne, Yvoir, Belgium.


Isocyanates may be involved in the development of chronic obstructive airway disease among exposed workers. A short-term exposure to toluene diisocyanate (TDI) at concentrations near the permissible levels was investigated to examine whether there was an association with changes in pulmonary function tests and in potential markers of airway injury and inflammation in bronchial lavage (BL) and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). Seventeen subjects without respiratory symptoms (eight smokers and nine nonsmokers) were exposed once to ambient air and once to TDI (5 parts per billion (ppb) for 6 h followed by 20 ppb for 20 min) in a randomized, single-blind sequence. Pulmonary function tests were repeatedly assessed during exposure and BAL was performed 1 h after each exposure. Biochemical studies on lavage fluids included albumin, immunoglobulins, antiproteases (alpha2-macroglobulin and alpha1-proteinase inhibitor), potential indicators of epithelial cell function (secretory component and Clara cell protein), and cytokines (tumour necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin (IL)-4, IL-5, IL-6, and IL-8). Exposure to TDI caused a modest decrease in specific airway conductance (sGaw) (p=0.053) and in maximal expiratory flow at 25% of forced vital capacity (MEF25%) (p=0.015) when compared with ambient air. Exposure to TDI resulted in a slight increase in BAL albumin level (TDI: 26.4+/-12.5 versus air: 21.8+/-8.6 microg x mL(-1), p=0.044) and in BL alpha2-macroglobulin concentration (TDI: 0.07+/-0.061 versus air: 0.05+/-0.04 microg x mL(-1), p=0.021). This study suggests that exposure to low toluene disocyanate concentrations is associated with minimal but detectable changes in airway calibre and in epithelial barrier permeability. The pulmonary effects of long-term exposure to low levels of isocyanates require further investigation.

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