Saf Health Work.  2011 Dec;2(4):355-364.

Odor Thresholds and Breathing Changes of Human Volunteers as Consequences of Sulphur Dioxide Exposure Considering Individual Factors

  • 1Leibniz Research Center for Working Environment and Human Factors, Dortmund, Germany.
  • 2Work Environment Toxicology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • 3IPA - Research Institute of Occupational Medicine, German Social Accident Insurance, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Bochum, Germany.


OBJECTIVES: Though sulfur dioxide (SO2) is used widely at workplaces, itseffects on humans are not known. Thresholds are reportedwithout reference to gender or age and occupational exposure limits are basedon effects on lung functioning,although localized effects in the upper airways can be expected.This study's aim is to determine thresholds with respect to age and gender and suggests a new approach to risk assessment using breathing reflexes presumably triggered by trigeminal receptors in the upper airways.
Odor thresholds were determined by the ascending method of limits in groups stratified by age and gender.Subjects rated intensities of different olfactory and trigeminal perceptions at different concentrations of SO2. During the presentation of the concentrations, breathing movements were measured by respiratory inductive plethysmography.
Neither age nor gender effects were observed for odor threshold. Only ratings of nasal irritation were influenced bygender. A benchmark dose analysis on relative respiratory depth revealed a 10%-deviation from baseline at about 25.27 mg/m3.
The proposed new approach to risk assessment appearsto be sustainable. We discuss whether a 10%-deviation of breathingdepth is relevant.


Risk assessment; Respiratory mechanics; Sensory thresholds; Sulfur dioxide
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