Open Access Research article

Airway symptoms and lung function in the local population after the oil tank explosion in Gulen, Norway

Jens-Tore Granslo12*, Magne Bråtveit2, Bjørg Eli Hollund1, Ågot Irgens1, Cecilie Svanes13, Nils Magerøy1 and Bente Elisabeth Moen12

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Occupational Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway

2 Department of Public Health and Primary Health Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

3 Institute of Medicine, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2012, 12:76  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-12-76

Published: 12 December 2012



Oil tanks containing a mixture of hydrocarbons, including sulphuric compounds, exploded and caught fire in an industrial harbour. This study assesses airway symptoms and lung function in the nearby population 1½ years after the explosion.


A cross-sectional study included individuals ≥18 years old. Individuals living <6 km (sub-groups <3km and 3–6 km) from the accident site formed the exposed group, individuals living >20 km away formed a control group. A questionnaire and spirometry tests were completed by 223 exposed individuals (response rate men 70%, women 75%) and 179 control individuals (response rate men 51%, women 65%). Regression analyses included adjustment for smoking, occupational exposure, atopy, infection in the preceding month and age. Analyses of symptoms were also adjusted for stress reactions related to the accident.


Exposed individuals experienced significantly more blocked nose (odds ratio 1.7 [95% confidence interval 1.0, 2.8]), rhinorrhoea (1.6 [1.1, 3.3]), nose irritation (3.4 [2.0, 5.9]), sore throat (3.1 [1.8, 5.5]), morning cough (3.5 [2.0, 5.5]), daily cough (2.2 [1.4, 3.7]), cough >3 months a year (2.9 [1.5, 5.3]) and cough with phlegm (1.9 [1.2, 3.1]) than control individuals. A significantly increasing trend was found for nose symptoms and cough, depending on the proximity of home address to explosion site (daily cough, 3-6km 1.8 [1.0, 3.1], <3km 3.0 [1.7, 6.4]). Lung function measurements were significantly lower in the exposed group than in the control group, FEV1 adjusted mean difference −123 mL [95% confidence interval −232, -14]), FEV1% predicted −2.5 [−5.5, 0.5], FVC −173 mL [− 297, -50], FVC% predicted −3.1 [− 5.9, -0.4], and airway obstruction (GOLD II/III).


Based on cross sectional analyses, individuals living in an area with air pollution from an oil tank explosion had more airway symptoms and lower lung function than a control group 1½ years after the incident.

Airway symptoms; Environmental pollutants; Explosion; Lung function