To investigate the relationship between exposure to organic solvents and the presence of pulmonary and upper respiratory tract mucous membrane symptoms, we conducted a cross-sectional study of 215 newspaper pressroom workers who were occupationally exposed to organic solvent and lubricant mixtures. Thirty-four compositors, who were not occupationally exposed to the solvents or lubricants, served as controls. Pressroom workers and compositors underwent spirometric testing and were also asked about the presence of cough, phlegm, hemoptysis, dyspnea, wheezing, chest tightness, nose or throat irritation, eye irritation, and sinus trouble. The spirometric results did not significantly differ between the two groups. However, the pressroom workers were significantly more likely to report pulmonary or upper respiratory tract mucous membrane symptoms than were compositors (P < 0.005). An exposure-response relationship could be demonstrated when comparing the number of solvents exposed with the total number of symptoms (P < 0.001). Similarly, an exposure-response relationship could be demonstrated when comparing the frequency of use of each of the seven solvents with the total number of symptoms (P < 0.002). Each of these findings was supported in a multivariable linear regression model that adjusted for potential confounders such as age, smoking history, and number of years in the industry. A high prevalence of these symptoms was reported even though the degree of exposure to solvents and lubricants was within the current permissible exposure limits.
Pulmonary & Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.