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---May 16, 1988---
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Four physicians writing in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHSYCHIATRY have reported three clinical studies of patients who developed "recurrent symptoms that are indistinguishable from panic attacks" as a result of exposure to organic chemical solvents.

Panic attacks are a medically defined condition involving combinations of the following symptoms: confusion, disorientation, lightheadedness, cold sweats, dry mouth, palpitations of the heart, difficulty breathing, tremors, fatigue, lethargy, muscle cramps, chest tightness, weakness, and fear of dying. In each of the three reported cases, the panic attacks first began when the individuals were exposed to solvents on the job; the solvents involved were such things as methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, paint thinner and paint fumes.

After the initial attack, these individuals each reported subsequent attacks brought on by odors of common organic compounds like paints and gasoline. The subsequent panic attacks occurred with increasing intensity and became progressively disabling. However, within a few months in each case the attacks had ceased. The report makes the point that these panic attacks brought on by exposure to organic solvents were not dose-related.

These are examples of "ecological illness"--individual responses, perhaps something like an allergic reaction, to the presence of exotic synthetic chemicals in the environment. As exposure of the general public to chemicals increases, more such individual medical problems must be anticipated.

See Stephen R. Dager and others, "Panic Disorder Precipitated by Exposure to Organic Solvents in the Work Place," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY, Vol. 144 (August, 1987), pgs. 1056-1058. Reprints available from Dr. Dager, ZA-99, Harborview Medical Center, 325 9th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104; phone (206) 223-3000.

The Western Research Institute (WRI) in Laramie, Wyoming, has developed a new laser technique for identifying chemical contaminants in groundwater and in industrial waste streams. The system uses an established principal, called Raman spectroscopy, to identify individual chemicals. In Raman spectroscopy, a laser beam is passed through a compound, which is then identified by the scattered light, or Raman signal. Within six months the Institute will have a workable system for monitoring groundwater quality in the field (as opposed to in the laboratory) and in industrial waste streams, according to Pat Sullivan, manager of waste characterization and chemistry at the Institute.

For further information contact Pat Sullivan, WRI, P.O. Box 3395, Laramie, WY 82071; phone (307) 721-2011.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.

Descriptor terms: solvents; studies; findings; mental health; panic disorders; occupational safety and health; ecological illness; health; health statistics; wri; western research institute; groundwater; lasers; raman spectroscopy; monitoring;

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