Kaolin is removed from underground seams in the mining area to a processing area, where it is sliced, dried, and pulverised to make the finished product. A study was undertaken to determine the dust concentrations in various work areas and to assess the prevalence of radiographic and pulmonary function abnormalities in 65 workers at a Georgia kaolin mine. Respirable dust concentrations were higher in the processing area than in the mine or maintenance areas for all determinations from 1977 to 1981. The mean respirable dust level in the processing area in 1981 was 1.74 mg/m3 and 0.14 mg/m3 in the mine area. Five workers, all of whom had worked at the processing area, had radiographic evidence of kaolin pneumoconiosis. The mean values of forced vital capacity (FVC) and FEV1 of the entire group were within the normal range. When the spirometric values were expressed as a percentage of the predicted values, the FVC and FEV1 were significantly lower in the workers with kaolinosis than in other workers in the processing area. The FVC and FEV1 also declined significantly with increasing years of work in the processing area. The FEV1/FVC%, however, was not significantly altered either by the presence of kaolinosis or by an increasing number of years of work, indicating that the impairment was restrictive and hence likely to be a consequence of dust inhalation rather than smoking. In this study the highest dust concentrations occurred in the processing area, and kaolin pneumoconiosis was limited to those who had worked there. Kaolin exposure appeared to have a small but significant effect on ventilatory capacity in those with kaolin pneumoconiosis and in workers with a longer exposure. There was no association between the radiographic appearances of kaolinosis and cigarette smoking or between the presence of radiographic abnormalities and reduced arterial blood gas tensions.
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