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Thorax 68:565-570 doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2012-203029
  • Occupational lung disease
  • Original article

Adverse respiratory effects associated with cadmium exposure in small-scale jewellery workshops in India

  1. Subhashis Sahu1
  1. 1Ergonomics and Occupational Physiology Laboratory, Department of Physiology, University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal, India
  2. 2Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Subhashis Sahu, Ergonomics and Occupational Physiology Laboratory, Department of Physiology, University of Kalyani, Kalyani-741235, West Bengal, India; skcsahu{at}yahoo.co.in
  • Received 23 November 2012
  • Revised 8 February 2013
  • Accepted 14 February 2013
  • Published Online First 6 March 2013

Abstract

Background Cadmium (Cd) is an important metal with both common occupational and environmental sources of exposure. Although it is likely to cause adverse respiratory effects, relevant human data are relatively sparse.

Methods A cross-sectional study of 133 workers in jewellery workshops using Cd under poor hygienic conditions and 54 referent jewellery sales staffs was performed. We assessed symptoms, performed spirometry, measured urinary Cd levels in all study subjects and quantified airborne total oxidant contents for 35 job areas in which the studied workforce was employed. We tested the association of symptoms with exposure relative to the unexposed referents using logistic regression analysis, and tested the association between urinary Cd levels and lung function using multiple regression analysis, adjusting for demographics, smoking and area-level airborne oxidants.

Results Exposed workers had 10 times higher urinary Cd values than referents (geometric mean 5.8 vs 0.41 µg/dl; p<0.01). Of the exposed subjects, 75% reported respiratory tract symptoms compared with 33% of the referents (OR=3.1, 95% CI 1.4 to 7.3). Forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) were also lower among the exposed workers than the referents (>600 ml decrement for each, p<0.001). For every 1 µg increase in urinary Cd there was a 34 ml decrement in FVC and a 39 ml decrement in FEV1 (p<0.01), taking into account other covariates including workplace airborne oxidant concentrations.

Conclusions This cohort of heavily exposed jewellery workers experienced frequent respiratory symptoms and manifested a marked deficit in lung function, demonstrating a strong response to Cd exposure.