Historical occupational isocyanate exposure levels in two Canadian provinces

Hon CY, Peters CE, Jardine KJ, Arrandale VH. Historical occupational isocyanate exposure levels in two Canadian provinces. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2017;14(1):1-8.

Isocyanates such as toluene 2, 4-diisocyanate (TDI), methylene bisphenyl isocyanate (MDI), and hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) are known sensitizers and exposure to these chemicals can result in isocyanate-induced asthma-the leading cause of occupational asthma. A newly created exposure database was available containing occupational isocyanate measurements spanning 1981-1996 from Ontario and British Columbia (BC)-two of the largest provinces in Canada. The aim was to describe the historical measurements relative to exposure thresholds, ascertain differences in the data between provinces, and identify time trends. Descriptive statistics of the observations were summarized and stratified by isocyanate species and province. Chi-square tests and Student’s t-test were performed to determine differences between provinces. To investigate time trends in the odds of a measurement exceeding the limit of detection (LOD) and time-weighted average (TWA), mixed effects logistic regression models were constructed. In total, 6,984 isocyanate measurements were analyzed, the majority of which were below the LOD (79%). Overall, 8.3% of samples were in excess of the 2014 TLV-TWA of 0.005 ppm. Comparing the two provinces, the proportion of samples exceeding the LOD and TLV-TWA was greater in BC for all isocyanate species. Differences in time trends were also observed between provinces-the odds of a sample exceeding the TLV-TWA decreased over time in the case of MDI (Ontario only), TDI (both Ontario and BC), and other isocyanates (BC only). Our finding that a majority of the exposure measurements was below the LOD is similar to that reported by others. Differences between provinces may be due the fact that isocyanates are classified as a designated substance in Ontario and must adhere to specific exposure control regulations. Limitations of the database, such as finite number of variables and measurements available until 1996 only, presents challenges for more in-depth analysis and generalization of results. An argument is made that a Canadian occupational exposure database be maintained to facilitate risk assessments as well as for occupational epidemiology research.