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Depression and Panic Attacks Related to Phenol-Formaldehyde Composite Material Exposure in an Aerospace Manufacturing Plant

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In a case series study we evaluated 53 composite-materials workers in an aerospace plant who filed workers' compensation claims for illness allegedly related to phenol-formaldehyde resin exposure. Symptoms ranged from mucosal and skin irritation to depression and cognitive impairment. Certain health practitioners implying they had immunologic dysfunction and organic brain injury, led workers to believe they were chemically poisoned. Industrial hygiene evaluation failed to show levels of chemicals above permissible levels. Thorough evaluation by our multidisciplinary panel failed to find significant objective abnormalities by physical exam and laboratory testing. Thirty-nine percent of the workers had sensory irritation and/or skin complaints that generally resolved rapidly with removal from exposure. Psychiatric diagnoses (including major depression and/or panic attacks) were made in 74% of the workers, but only 26% of these had antecedent disease. Fourteen (26%) had multiple somatic complaints that generally persisted despite removal from exposure, but they also had long histories of significant pre-existing psychological illness. Detailed neuropsychologic testing failed to show any definite evidence of organic brain dysfunction in any of the workers tested. We speculate that sensory irritation from low-level volatile organic compounds with autonomic arousal, reinforced by the belief they were "chemically poisoned, " led to psychogenic illness.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1991-11-01

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  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings is a peer reviewed publication dedicated to distributing timely scientific research regarding advancements in the knowledge and practice of allergy, asthma and immunology. Its primary readership consists of allergists and pulmonologists.

    The goal of the Proceedings is to publish articles with a predominantly clinical focus which directly impact quality of care for patients with allergic disease and asthma.

    Featured topics include asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, food allergies, allergic skin diseases, diagnostic techniques, allergens, and treatment modalities. Published material includes peer-reviewed original research, clinical trials and review articles.

    Articles marked "F" offer free full text for personal noncommercial use only.

    The journal is indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science and Science Citation Index Expanded, plus the National Library of Medicine's PubMed service.
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