A form of pneumoconiosis in rural African women termed "Transkei silicosis" has been thought to be due to silica particles inhaled while they are hand grinding maize between rocks. Twenty five women were studied who were considered to have this condition according to the following criteria: rural domicile, radiographic and lung biopsy evidence of pneumoconiosis, no exposure to mining or industry and no evidence of active tuberculosis. They were assessed for radiological, pathological, physiological and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid features. Potential aetiological factors were assessed by determining levels of exposure to respirable quartz and non-quartz containing dusts and smoke in rural dwellings during maize grinding and cooking. Most of the women were symptomless. Radiological findings ranged from a miliary pattern to extensive fibrosis resembling progressive massive fibrosis. Histological features included simple "anthracosis" in 12, anthracosis with macules in six, and mixed dust fibrosis in seven. Cell numbers and their proportions in lavage fluid were normal. More than 60% of macrophages were heavily laden with inorganic inclusions. Respirable quartz concentrations and calculated cumulative time weighted exposures were below those recommended for industry during grinding with sandstone (100% quartz) and they were even lower during grinding with dolerite containing no quartz despite the presence of an appreciable amount of quartz in the ground maize. Total respirable dust and smoke concentrations were greater than the recommended safe levels. Three women had no exposure to maize grinding. It is concluded that the inhalation of non-quartz containing dust and smoke from biomass fuelled fires is more important in the aetiology of this condition than exposure to quartz dust. The term "hut lung" may be more appropriate.
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