An outbreak of illness among aerospace workers

West J Med. 1990 Jul;153(1):28-33.


A multispecialty panel of physicians evaluated a case series of 53 composite-materials workers in a large aircraft manufacturing facility who filed workers' compensation claims for illness labeled by the media as the "aerospace syndrome." Possible skin and respiratory tract exposures included formaldehyde, phenol, particulates, epoxy resins, and trace organic solvents, but measured concentrations were well below all regulatory and consensus standards. Most workers had histories of transient skin or respiratory tract irritation consistent with the known potential toxicity of these materials. None of the workers tested had immunoglobulin IgG or IgE antibodies to human serum albumin complexed with formaldehyde. A majority (74%) met DSM-III-R [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd edition, revised] criteria for major depression, panic disorder, or both. Most of these psychiatric disorders were of a recent onset, correlating in time with the use of phenol- and formaldehyde-impregnated composite material. Psychosocial factors were thought to have played a major role in the high prevalence of illness in this group and should be evaluated directly in well-controlled epidemiologic studies of similar crisis-building situations in the future.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects
  • Aircraft*
  • Anxiety Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Panic
  • Syndrome
  • Washington / epidemiology


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational