The associations between occupational exposure to water-based paints and the prevalence of self-reported asthma, other lower airway symptoms, bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), and lung function were studied in house painters. Symptom prevalences were obtained from a self-administered questionnaire sent to 415 male painters during 1989–1992. Clinical investigations were carried out in three selected groups: 23 painters with asthmatic symptoms, nine painters with other lower airway symptoms, and 12 painters without airway symptoms. The clinical studies included lung function test, methacholine provocation test, and occurrence of atopy, confirmed by skin prick test to common allergens. In addition, a group of 18 young male painters with no occupational exposure to solvent-based paints were followed with dynamic spirometry before and after a workshift, when only water-based paints were used. The prevalence of self-reported asthma (7%) was somewhat, but not statistically, increased compared to an industrial population without exposure to water-based paints or other airway irritants. A decrease in FEV1 and FVC during the workday was observed in the young painters. In the clinical studies the painters exhibited increased BHR compared to the referents and a decreased FEV1. The number of years working as a painter was related to a decrease in FEV1, which was most pronounced in subjects with atopy who also reported lower airway symptoms in relation to the degree of work with water-based paints, but not to the degree of use of solvent-based paints. Our results indicate that house painters have an increased risk of airway problems. A contributory cause could be exposure to volatile organic compounds or other volatile compounds emitted from water-based paints. It is also concluded that painters with atopy should be informed about the increased risk of airway illness. This would be an important task for occupational health services in their aim of preventing the adverse effects of occupational exposures.
Water-based paintsHouse paintersLung function impairmentBronchial hyperresponsiveness