Associations Between Immune Function in Yearling Beef Cattle and Airborne Emissions of Sulfur Dioxide, Hydrogen Sulfide, and VOCs From Oil and Natural Gas Facilities

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Researchers assessed the associations between airborne emissions from oil and gas field facilities and the structure and function of the immune system of yearling beef cattle in 27 herds during spring 2002. They evaluated the immune systems of these animals by enumerating B lymphocytes and T-lymphocyte subtypes (CD4, CD8, γδ, and WC1) in peripheral circulation and by measuring systemic antibody production in response to vaccination. Researchers prospectively measured exposure to sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by using air-quality data from passive monitors installed in pastures and wintering areas. They estimated the mean exposure of each animal over the 6-month period before the start of sample collection. The researchers used mixed models, which adjusted for clustering by herd and accounted for known risk factors, to examine potential associations between exposure to airborne sulfur dioxide, VOCs (measured as concentrations of benzene and toluene) and hydrogen sulfide, as well as proximity to emission sources (well-site density), and the immune system outcomes. Increasing exposure to VOCs measured as toluene was associated with significant CD4 T lymphocytopenia. The number of CD4 T lymphocytes was 30% lower in cattle exposed to VOCs measured as toluene in the highest quartile (> 0.823 μg/m3) than in cattle exposed in the lowest quartile (< 0.406 μg/m3).

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