Wood pellets are used as a source of renewable energy for heating purposes. Common exposures are wood dust and monoterpenes, which are known to be hazardous for the airways. The purpose of this study was to study the effect of occupational exposure on respiratory health in wood pellet workers.
Thirty-nine men working with wood pellet production at six plants were investigated with a questionnaire, medical examination, allergy screening, spirometry, and nasal peak expiratory flow (nasal PEF). Exposure to wood dust and monoterpenes was measured.
The wood pellet workers reported a higher frequency of nasal symptoms, dry cough, and asthma medication compared to controls from the general population. There were no differences in nasal PEF between work and leisure time. A lower lung function than expected (vital capacity [VC], 95%; forced vital capacity in 1?second [FEV1], 96% of predicted) was noted, but no changes were noted during shifts. There was no correlation between lung function and years working in pellet production. Personal measurements of wood dust at work showed high concentrations (0.16-19?mg/m3), and exposure peaks when performing certain work tasks. Levels of monoterpenes were low (0.64-28?mg/m3). There was no association between exposure and acute lung function effects.
In this study of wood pellet workers, high levels of wood dust were observed, and that may have influenced the airways negatively as the study group reported upper airway symptoms and dry cough more frequently than expected. The wood pellet workers had both a lower VC and FEV1 than expected. No cross-shift changes were found.
Cites: J Occup Environ Hyg. 2008 May;5(5):296-304 PMID 18322870