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Jan. 23, 1996

L&I awards $1.4 million in contracts for chemical illness research

TUMWATER - The Department of Labor & Industries today announced the awarding $1.4 million for six contracts for continuing research into chemically related illnesses.

The contracts are another example of the department's leading role into one of today's most critical workplace issues - exposure to chemicals that cause injuries and illnesses.

"Labor & Industries is continuing its leadership to find answers to the riddle of chemically related illnesses," said Dr. Gary Franklin, medical director for the department. "These projects should provide insights and help us alleviate suffering."

The Legislature in 1995 authorized the department to fund additional research into chemically related illnesses. L&I already has a three-year contract with the University of Washington's Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program at Harborview Hospital for a center that combines research, education and clinical care for people exposed to chemicals. The center in Seattle opened Aug. 31, 1995.

The department in April 1995 solicited research proposals to medical investigators across the United States and Canada. After an extensive review process, L&I awarded the contracts to six researchers. All have the support of business and labor representatives in Washington.

Three of the contracts specifically are for research into multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Three contracts are for chemically related illnesses not associated with MCS.

The MCS contracts are:

-- Reliability and reproducibility of immune and lymphocyte tests in MCS patients and controls

This research will focus on the validity of tests of immune systems in humans for MCS. Currently, there is considerable scientific debate about the role of immune systems and the relation to multiple chemical sensitivity.

Principal investigator: Dr. Joseph Margolick, Johns Hopkins University Budget: $296,220

-- Time-dependent sensitization and cognitive dysfunction in multiple chemical sensitivity

This study will focus on the relationship of brain function to MCS. The theory that will be tested is that MCS patients feel ill from low levels of chemical exposures because of "sensitization," a type of amplification of reactions in the brain.

Principal investigator: Dr. Iris Bell, University of Arizona College of Medicine Budget: $218,370

-- SPECT imaging of the brain in patients with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome and controls

This research will focus on developing an objective test in evaluating patients with suspected multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. Current scientific evidence does not support the use of SPECT scans for a diagnosis of MCS.

SPECT stands for single-photo emission computed tomography, which involves the injection of low-level radioactive fluid into the brain.

Principal investigator: Dr. Howard Hu, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass. Budget: $272,607

The three non-MCS contracts are:

-- Do volatile compounds cause chemically related illness?

Volatile organic compounds are a diverse group of chemicals commonly found in indoor. Sources include carpets, paints, furniture and cleaning products. There is growing concern that these chemicals cause health problems.

This research will focus on whether exposure to the compounds at levels commonly found in indoor air cause changes in lung function or inflammation of the lungs and sinuses.

Principal investigator: Dr. Scott Barnhart, University of Washington Budget: $164,357

-- Exposure assessment and health effects in hard metal tool machining

This research will study the degree to which workers exposed to hard metal are at risk for developing asthma or hard metal lung disease.

Hard metals generally are made of tungsten and small amounts of other metals and are held together by cobalt. At this time, no one knows the degree to which workers exposed to hard metals develop asthma or lung disease.

Principal investigator: Dr. Noah Seixas, University of Washington Budget: $199,175

-- A study of the potential health effects of exposure to wood dust, abietic acid, monoterpenes and molds among sawmill workers

This research will examine the health effects of dust from three tree species in the Northwest: balsam, spruce and pine. Eye, not and throat irritation, respiratory symptoms and occupational asthma have been reported among sawmill workers exposed to wood dust.

Principal investigator: Dr. Paul Demers, University of British Columbia Budget, $125,020

In addition, the department has funded a pilot project to study the use of a field kit to monitor cholinesterase levels in agricultural workers exposed to pesticides.

A known group of pesticides causes toxicity in a person by affecting an enzyme called cholinesterase, which is essential for normal function of the nervous system.

This research, which began in March 1995, has tested whether a field kit to measure cholinesterase in agricultural workers is valuable in the prevention of toxic exposure. A final report currently is being written.

Principal investigator: Dr. Matthew Keifer, University of Washington Budget: $109,208

All of the above research contracts will end June 30, 1997.

For additional information, contact Jamie Lifka, 360-902-4941.

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