Malo JL, Cartier A, Boulet LP, L'Archeveque J, Saint-Denis F, Bherer L, Courteau JP
Repeated exposure to chlorine in pulp mills and paper can induce persistent asthma-like symptoms such as bronchial hyperresponsiveness and variable changes in airway caliber. The long-term time course of bronchial hyperresponsiveness has not been examined. We studied 20 of 29 subjects (69% participation rate) who demonstrated bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine when they were first assessed, 18 to 24 mo after repeatedly inhaling "puffs" of high concentrations of chlorine in a paper mill over a 3-mo period. Each subject answered a respiratory questionnaire and underwent spirometry and a methacholine inhalation test 12 mo after the initial survey, 30 to 36 mo after the chlorine inhalations. Three subjects required inhaled steroids at the time of the initial survey and three at the time of the second, including two who carried on using these preparations. Only one subject changed smoking habits. There were no significant overall changes in FEV1 on the two occasions, nine subjects having a FEV1<80% on the first occasion and eight on the second. Six of the 18 subjects (33%) who underwent a methacholine inhalation test on both occasions had significantly improved PC20 results, including five for whom the PC20 value was within the normal range. All six subjects had normal FEV1 values on both assessments. Although changes in spirometry induced by repeated exposure to chlorine seem to persist, bronchial hyperresponsiveness can improve significantly in those with normal airway caliber. This suggests that less pronounced bronchial alterations induced by repeated exposures to chlorine may be reversible.
Department of Chest Medicine, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur, Montreal, Hôpital Laval, Quebec City, Canada.