Occupational air pollutants and non-malignant respiratory disorders especially in miners

Abstract: Aim. To assess associations between occupational air pollution and respiratory health, especially in miners.Background. Indications of associations between occupational exposure or social economic status and respiratory health have been found in several population-based studies. However, there have been few longitudinal studies of the putative correlations, the effects of environmental and genetic factors have seldom been simultaneously studied, and studies of miners have generated conflicting results.Material and methods. Population-based Obstructive Lung Disease in Northern Sweden (OLIN) cohorts surveyed in 1986, 1992 and 1996, and two industry-based materials, were used in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Inflammatory markers were compared in sputa from miners after a vacation of at least four weeks, after repeated occupational exposures for at least three months, and controls. The mortality from silicosis was studied in 7729 miners with at least 1 year of exposure. Multivariate analyses were used to adjust for confounders.Results. Up to about 30-40% (etiologic fraction) of incident symptoms in persons both with and without a family history of asthma (FHA) could be explained by exposure to occupational air pollution. Low socio-economic status (SES) was associated with impaired respiratory health. Population attributable risks for most examined disorders were about 10%. Current and ex-miners had increased prevalence of recurrent wheeze, longstanding cough, physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis, and a trend for increased sputum production. For physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis a multiplicative interaction was found between exposure and smoking habits. Ex-miners that had been exposed for on average 13 years and whose exposure had ceased 16 years before the study had an increased prevalence of physician-diagnosed chronic bronchitis and chronic productive cough and a trend to increased use of asthma medicines.Miners exposed underground for 18 years, on average, to diesel exhaust (with 0.28 mg/m3 nitrogen dioxide and 27 μg/m3 elemental carbon on average, EC) and particles (3.2 mg/m3 inhalable dust on average) had signs of higher inflammatory activity in their airways, i.e. significantly higher frequencies of macrophages, neutrophils, and total cells compared with referents. The activity in miners was similar after a vacation of at least four weeks and after repeated exposures for three months.There were 58 deaths from silicosis (underlying and contributing cause of death) and a clear dose-response relationship. The data indicated an increased risk of severe silicosis after long-term exposure to 0.1 mg/m3 respirable quartz, the current maximum allowable concentration (MAC) in Sweden and many other countries.Conclusion. Occupational exposure to dust, gases, and fumes impaired respiratory health, accounting for up to 30-40% of some respiratory symptoms in the general population. Low socio-economic status was associated with impaired respiratory health. The complex profiles of dust and diesel exhaust substances found in mines may cause inflammatory reactions in their lungs and persistent respiratory symptoms in occupationally exposed miners. Long-term exposure to quartz at the present MAC level may cause severe silicosis.