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Epidemic soybean asthma and public health: new control systems and initial evaluation in Barcelona, 1996–98
  1. J R Villalbí1,
  2. A Plasencia1,
  3. R Manzanera1,
  4. R Armengol1,
  5. J M Antó2,
  6. the Collaborative and Technical Support Groups for the study of soybean asthma in Barcelona*
  1. 1Agència de Salut Pública de Barcelona (formerly Institut Municipal de Salut Pública, Ajuntament de Barcelona), Spain
  2. 2Institut Municipal d’Investigacions Mèdiques, Barcelona, Spain
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J R Villalbí Agència de Salut Pública de Barcelona
 Pl Lesseps 1, 08023 Barcelona, Spain;


Objective: To evaluate the new measures adopted to control the risks from soybean unloading operations in the Port of Barcelona, after an episode of epidemic asthma in June 1996.

Methods: After an initial cautionary suspension of all soybean unloading operations, they were subsequently resumed under restrictive criteria for time, flux, simultaneity, and meteorological conditions. Emission filtration systems based on either micro pore size filters or polytetrafluoroethylene membranes on tetratex filters showed promising results.

Results: Allergen emission underwent a very important decrease to levels 95% to 98% lower. Emissions from the two plants with unloading operations are in the same order of magnitude as the processing plant that does not unload soybean. Allergen concentration levels presented fluctuations initially, but the new filters decreased mean values; despite increased unloading, allergen levels did not increase—mean allergen levels on unloading days (67 U/m3) and on days without unloading operations (63 U/m3) are similar. A panel of patients detected a cluster of increased symptoms during unloading operations on a day with suboptimal meteorological conditions and comparatively low allergen levels (225–415 U/m3). Since the June 1996 episode, no further asthma outbreak has been detected.

Conclusions: The evaluation shows the effectiveness of the new filters in the control of soybean dust emission. With a systematic control programme, industrial soybean operations may function near urban centres without public health risks. These data may be useful in the development of future standards for allergenic agents.

  • epidemic asthma
  • soybean
  • evaluation
  • risk control
  • MPS, micro pore size
  • PTFE, polytetrafluoethylene
  • RAST, radioallergoabsorbence test

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

  • * Members of the Technical Support Group: Ricard Alsina (Direcció d’Iniciatives i Vigilància Ambiental, Ajuntament de Barcelona), Josep M Antó (Institut Municipal d’Investigacions Mèdiques), Ricard Armengol (Institut Municipal de Salut Pública, currently in SCUB 061), Dolors Carrascal (Autoritat Portuària de Barcelona), Jordi Cisteró (Autoritat Portuària de Barcelona), José I Gorostiaga (UO d’Activitats i Seguretat en l’Edificació, Ajuntament de Barcelona), José Gracia (Direcció d’Iniciatives i Vigilància Ambiental, Ajuntament de Barcelona), Rafael Manzanera (Institut Municipal de Salut Pública, currently in Institut Municipal d’Assistència Sanitària), Joan Moya (UO d’Activitats i Seguretat en l’Edificació, Ajuntament de Barcelona), Antoni Plasencia (Agència de Salut Pública), Pau Rodríguez (Direcció d’Iniciatives i Vigilància Ambiental, Ajuntament de Barcelona), Xavier Solé (Autoritat Portuària), Joan B Soriano (Institut Municipal d’Investigacions Mèdiques), Jordi Sunyer (Institut Municipal d’Investigacions Mèdiques), Jordi Vila (Autoritat Portuària), and Joan R Villalbí (Agència de Salut Pública). Members of the Collaborative Group: Joan Broquetes (Hospital de Mar), Joan A Caylà (Agència de Salut Pública), Ferràn Morell (Hospitals de la Vall d’Hebron), Josep Roca (Hospital Clínic), Maria J Rodrigo (Hospitals de la Vall d’Hebron), Robert Rodríguez-Roisín (Hospital Clínic), and Joaquim Sanchís (Hospital de Sant Pau). Josep M Pintó and Jordi Solé (ENVIROTEC) contributed to the study of emissions.

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