Objectives: We present a re-analysis of a recent Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) that was performed by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regarding the pulmonary status of workers at a flavorings manufacturing facility. This facility has used acetaldehyde, acetoin, benzaldehyde, butyric acid, diacetyl and many other flavoring chemicals for many years.
Methods: Ten years of spirometry testing and job descriptions data on 112 workers were analyzed by the authors and by NIOSH. Using NIOSH's exposure assessment criteria, we compared the prevalence of restrictive findings (as determined by spirometry testing) in production workers to an internal control group that had reduced or no potential for exposure to flavoring chemicals. NIOSH used multiple linear regression to evaluate changes in pulmonary function by the exposure group. After our review of the NIOSH findings, we evaluated associations between longitudinal changes in pulmonary health and workplace exposures through the use of generalized estimating equations. We then compared our results to those obtained by NIOSH.
Results: We found that the prevalence of pulmonary restriction was similar in production workers and internal controls. We found no relationship between the magnitude of exposure to flavorings chemicals and observed decrements in pulmonary function. Our findings were contrary to those reported by NIOSH, most likely because of how we accounted for the longitudinal nature of the spirometric data.
Conclusion: Many years of exposures to flavoring chemicals in this workplace, including diacetyl, were not found to produce an increased risk of abnormal spirometric findings.