Yale Study Looks At Ways To Identify And Prevent Occupational Asthma In Workers At Autobody Paint Shops

December 03, 1997

NEW HAVEN, Conn., Dec. 3, 1997-Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine have launched a study to determine how commonly used chemicals in autobody paint shops may cause or aggravate asthma. The study, Survey of Painters and Repairers in Autobodies by Yale (SPRAY), is also aimed at finding better ways to protect workers' health.

"Our goal is to investigate the health risks from exposure to chemicals called isocyanates at autobody shops in New Haven and New London counties," says Mark R. Cullen, M.D., director of Yale's Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program and the study's principal investigator. "We would also like to identify methods to diagnose employees with respiratory problems such as asthma."

Workers in autobody shops are exposed to many potentially harmful materials, such as paints and solvents. Paints often contain isocyanates, which are highly reactive chemicals known to trigger respiratory symptoms and asthma. Isocyanates are one of the main causes of occupational asthma. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of workers exposed to isocyanates may be affected nationally.

SPRAY, which is funded by a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, Ga., will provide participating autobody shops with free industrial hygiene evaluations. Yale researchers will evaluate the working environments in several shops for isocyanate exposure, make recommendations to reduce their exposure to chemicals, and give workers free respiratory health evaluations.

"The very nature of autobody shops and the small work environment makes it difficult to monitor the chemicals being used," says Dr. Cullen, professor of medicine and public health at Yale. "Isocyanates are a class of very reactive chemicals which can rapidly link resins together to make polyurethane. They are a minor component of paint found in autobody shops, but isocyanates are a major biological problem because they are very reactive with people as well.

"Isocyanates account for the highest number of reported cases of occupational asthma in the United States. and other developed countries," adds Dr. Cullen. "Primary prevention is limited by inadequate knowledge of isocyanate exposure patterns and the factors which both cause and exacerbate asthma."

Dr. Cullen's research team at Yale School of Medicine includes Joyce Chung, M.P.H., clinical researcher; Carrie Redlich, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine; Carole Holm, RN, clinical nurse coordinator; Youcheng Liu, Sc.D., industrial hygienist; and Judy Sparer, industrial hygienist.

For more information about this study or to participate, call (203) 764-9794.

Yale University School of Medicine

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