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Respiratory and skin health among glass microfiber production workers: a cross-sectional study

1, 2, 3, 4

Environmental Health

BioMed Central

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      Only a few studies have investigated non-malignant respiratory effects of glass microfibers and these have provided inconsistent results. Our objective was to assess the effects of exposure to glass microfibers on respiratory and skin symptoms, asthma and lung function.


      A cross-sectional study of 102 workers from a microfiber factory (response rate 100%) and 76 office workers (73%) from four factories in Thailand was conducted. They answered a questionnaire on respiratory health, occupational exposures, and lifestyle factors, and performed spirometry. Measurements of respirable dust were available from 2004 and 2005.


      Workers exposed to glass microfibers experienced increased risk of cough (adjusted OR 2.04), wheezing (adjOR 2.20), breathlessness (adjOR 4.46), nasal (adjOR 2.13) and skin symptoms (adjOR 3.89) and ever asthma (adjOR 3.51), the risks of breathlessness (95%CI 1.68–11.86) and skin symptoms (1.70–8.90) remaining statistically significant after adjustment for confounders. There was an exposure-response relation between the risk of breathlessness and skin symptoms and increasing level of microfiber exposure. Workers exposed to sensitizing chemicals, including phenol-formaldehyde resin, experienced increased risk of cough (3.43, 1.20–9.87) and nasal symptoms (3.07, 1.05–9.00).


      This study provides evidence that exposure to glass microfibers increases the risk of respiratory and skin symptoms, and has an exposure-response relation with breathlessness and skin symptoms. Exposure to sensitizing chemicals increased the risk of cough and nasal symptoms. The results suggest that occupational exposure to glass microfibers is related to non-malignant adverse health effects, and that implementing exposure control measures in these industries could protect the health of employees.

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      Most cited references 29

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      Standardization of spirometry, 1994 update

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        Environmental tobacco smoke and adult-onset asthma: a population-based incident case-control study.

        The authors assessed the effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) on the development of asthma in adults. In the Pirkanmaa district of South Finland, all 21- to 63-year-old adults with new cases of asthma diagnosed during a 2.5-year period (n = 521 case patients, out of 441 000 inhabitants) and a random sample of control subjects from the source population (932 control subjects) participated in a population-based incident case-control study. Risk of asthma was related to workplace ETS exposure (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 2.16; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.26, 3.72) and home exposure (OR = 4.77; 95% CI = 1.29, 17.7) in the past year. Cumulative ETS exposure over a lifetime at work and at home increased the risk. This study indicates for the first time that both cumulative lifetime and recent ETS exposures increase the risk of adult-onset asthma.
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          Interior surface materials and asthma in adults: a population-based incident case-control study.

          The authors conducted a population-based incident case-control study to assess the relations between different types of interior surface materials and recent renovations at home and at work and the risk of asthma in adults. The authors systematically recruited all new cases of asthma during a 2.5-year study period (1997-2000) and randomly selected controls from a source population consisting of adults 21-63 years of age living in south Finland. The clinically diagnosed cases consisted of 521 adults with new asthma, and the controls consisted of 932 adults fulfilling eligibility criteria. In logistic regression analysis adjusting for confounding, the risk of asthma was related to the presence of plastic wall materials (adjusted odds ratio (OR) = 2.43, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03, 5.75) and wall-to-wall carpet at work (adjusted OR = 1.73, 95% CI: 0.74, 4.09), the latter in particular in the presence of mold problems (adjusted OR = 4.64, 95% CI: 1.11, 19.4). Use of floor-leveling plaster at home during the past 12 months was also a determinant of onset of asthma (adjusted OR = 1.81, 95% CI: 1.06, 3.08). These findings underline the need to consider the health aspects of materials used in floor, wall, and other indoor surfaces.

            Author and article information

            [1]Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK
            [2]Cancer Center, Ramathibodhi Hospital, Faculty of Medicine, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand
            [3]Department of Occupational Health and Safety, Faculty of Public Health, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand
            [4]Respiratory Medicine Unit, Dept. of Internal Medicine, Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 5000, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland, and Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, Finland
            Environ Health
            Environmental Health
            BioMed Central
            18 August 2009
            : 8
            : 36
            Copyright ©2009 Sripaiboonkij et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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