Community outbreaks of asthma associated with inhalation of soybean dust. Toxicoepidemiological Committee

N Engl J Med. 1989 Apr 27;320(17):1097-102. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198904273201701.


Since 1981, 26 outbreaks of asthma have been detected in the city of Barcelona. The geographic clustering of cases close to the harbor led us to consider the harbor as the probable source of the outbreaks. We therefore studied the association between the unloading of 26 products from ships in the harbor and outbreaks of asthma in 1985 and 1986. All 13 asthma-epidemic days in these two years coincided with the unloading of soybeans (lower 95 percent confidence limit of the risk ratio, 7.2). Of the remaining 25 products, only the unloading of wheat was related to the epidemics of asthma, although when adjusted for the unloading of soybeans the relation was not statistically significant. High-pressure areas and mild southeasterly to southwesterly winds, which favored the movement of air from the harbor to the city, were registered on all epidemic days. Particles of starch and episperm cells that were recovered from air samplers placed in the city had morphologic characteristics identical to those of soybean particles. Furthermore, the lack of bag filters at the top of one of the harbor silos into which soybeans were unloaded allowed the release of soybean dust into the air. We conclude that these outbreaks of asthma in Barcelona were caused by the inhalation of soybean dust released during the unloading of soybeans at the city harbor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Dust / adverse effects*
  • Dust / analysis
  • Humans
  • Ships
  • Soybeans / adverse effects*
  • Space-Time Clustering
  • Spain
  • Weather


  • Dust