Michael F. Easley

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: May 4, 2007


N.C. DHHS Office of Public Affairs, (919) 733-9190
ATSDR Office of Communication, (404) 498-0070

Op-Ed on N.C. Community Health Study: Exposure to TDI (Toluene Diisocyanate) and Respiratory Health

Co-authored by Dr. Leah M. Devlin, State Health Director, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Howard Frumkin, Director, National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

RALEIGH — In the next few days, two public health agencies will begin a study of a potentially hazardous chemical in North Carolina . The agencies are the state Department of Health and Human Services and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The chemical is toluene diisocyanate, or TDI.

TDI is used to make many products we use every day, such as building insulation and varnishes. In North Carolina , TDI is used to make polyurethane foam that is used in furniture, automobiles and other products. Unfortunately, TDI can be hazardous. It is an irritating chemical, and with repeated exposure workers become sensitized to TDI — much like developing an allergy — and they may develop asthma. In fact, a government warning has been in place for more than a decade: “Workers exposed to diisocyanates may develop serious or fatal respiratory disease.”

Careful work practices limit workers' exposures to TDI, and protect their health. As a result, work-related TDI respiratory disease is far less common today than in past years.

But the workplace is not the only place people can encounter TDI. In theory, TDI can spread from factories into nearby neighborhoods. If this were to happen, the people living there — including children, the elderly, and people with lung disease — could be exposed. Some of these people are especially vulnerable. TDI exposure could threaten their health.

We have no evidence that such community exposures are happening in North Carolina . However, because there were indications of exactly this problem several years ago near a now-closed plant that used TDI, we believe the prudent step is to check. For example, if you live in a house with lead paint, your doctor might check your blood to see if you are being exposed to lead. The TDI situation is similar.

This is the first scientific study to investigate TDI exposure in communities. We hope to find that nobody is exposed, and that nobody's health is threatened. But if there is a problem, health professionals, community members, and the companies need to know it. Only then can they take steps to protect the public.

Participation in the study is completely voluntary and confidential. People who choose to participate will not only learn about their own respiratory health. They will also help scientists understand how TDI exposure may affect other communities around the country and even in other parts of the world.

Some have objected to this study. They claim that the scientific design is poor, that the techniques for measuring TDI in the air and TDI antibodies in people's blood are unreliable. They are mistaken.

This study was designed by state and federal health scientists, and reviewed and approved by outside experts with no financial interest in the subject. The measurement techniques represent the latest and best available methods; in fact, the very same techniques are used in university, government, and industry studies of TDI.

Good health is a precious gift. Good health means we can fully enjoy our families, our homes, and our communities, and live our lives to the fullest. To protect health, we need solid facts, based on sound science. And to gather these facts, we need to work together — community members, scientists, health professionals, and the agencies responsible for protecting the public.

We hope you will take time to learn about the study, and, if you live in one of the study areas, to participate. To find out more about this important study, we invite you to visit www.ncpublichealth.com or telephone the North Carolina CARE-LINE Information and Referral Service at 1-800-662-7030 (TTY for the hearing impaired: 1-877-452-2514).


MEDIA NOTE: The direct link to the TDI study web site is www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/oee/tdi.html.

Public Affairs Office
101 Blair Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
FAX (919)733-7447

Debbie Crane