Respiratory effects of toluene diisocyanate in the workplace: a discussion of exposure-response relationships

Crit Rev Toxicol. 2003;33(1):1-59. doi: 10.1080/713611031.


Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is an important industrial intermediate used in manufacturing flexible polyurethane (PUR) foams, surface coatings, cast elastomers, sealants, and adhesives. In this review long-term trends in workplace exposures to TDI are assessed in both the producing and using industries, and respiratory health effects of TDI are evaluated in relation to workplace TDI concentrations. The key respiratory health effects associated with repeated or long-term TDI exposure are bronchial asthma and an accelerated rate of decline in lung function. In the early years of the industry, annual incidence rates of occupational asthma (OA) due to TDI ranged from 1% to as high as 5 to 6%, depending on the extent of engineering and work practice controls in the various workplaces. Since the mid-1970s, annual OA incidence rates have been <1%, where 8 h TDI concentrations have been maintained below 5 ppb as determined by personal monitoring, even where short-termTDI concentrations above 20 ppb and less frequently above 40 ppb were routinely detected. In these latter settings, there is evidence that the majority of OA cases may be attributable to TDI concentrations well above 20 ppb associated with overexposure incidents. Further study is needed regarding the role of such incidents in inducing respiratory sensitization. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of lung function have indicated that continued exposure after development of work-related respiratory symptoms can lead to transient or accelerated fixed declines in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV1). These findings are congruent with the FEV1 declines demonstrated in general population studies of persons with persistent bronchial hyperresponsiveness or nonoccupational asthma. More recent longitudinal studies in settings with ongoing medical surveillance have provided no consistent evidence of accelerated FEV1 loss among employees exposed up to 5 ppb TDI on an 8 h time-weighted average basis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Chemical Industry*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Inhalation Exposure*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / chemically induced
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Toluene 2,4-Diisocyanate / adverse effects*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Workplace


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Toluene 2,4-Diisocyanate