Incidence of asthma among workers exposed to sulphur dioxide and other irritant gases.

Research paper by E E Andersson, A A Knutsson, S S Hagberg, T T Nilsson, B B Karlsson, L L Alfredsson, K K Torén

Indexed on: 06 Apr '06Published on: 06 Apr '06Published in: European Respiratory Journal


The aim of the present study was to investigate whether repeated peak exposure (gassings) to sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other irritant gases increases the risk of new-onset asthma. A questionnaire was sent to 4,112 sulphite workers, of whom 1,919 completed the questionnaire and 396 completed the short-form questionnaire, which was sent out as a last reminder. A sample of 130 nonrespondents completed a telephone interview using the short-form questionnaire. The incidence of adult-onset, physician-diagnosed asthma during employment duration was analysed in relation to exposure to SO2 and gassings giving rise to respiratory symptoms. Incidence rates, as well as incidence rate ratios with 95% confidence interval (CI), were calculated. Further Cox regression models were used allowing assessment of hazard ratios (HR) stratified for sex and adjusted for atopy, smoking habits and age. The incidence rate for asthma among sulphite mill workers reporting gassings of SO2 was 6.2 out of 1,000 person-yrs, compared with 1.9 out of 1,000 person-yrs among subjects unexposed to SO2 and any gassings (HR (95% CI) 4.0 (2.1-7.7)). Among males reporting gassings to SO2, the HR (95% CI) for asthma was 5.8 (2.6-13) compared with unexposed males. In conclusion, repeated peak exposure to sulphur dioxide increased the incidence of asthma during work in sulphite pulp mills, which supports the hypothesis of irritant-induced asthma.