Five patients with respiratory disorders associated with hard metal exposure are described. In four patients electron microprobe analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage cells or lung tissue was used to show tungsten and other hard-metal components. Three patients had interstitial pneumonia and fibrosis with unusual multinucleate giant cells. Electron microscopy showed that the giant cells comprised both type II alveolar epithelial cells and alveolar macrophages. The multinucleate macrophages formed a distinctive feature of the bronchoalveolar lavage material but the multinucleate alveolar epithelial lining cells were evident only in lung tissue. The other two patients both suffered from work-related asthma, one of whom also had pulmonary opacities. Bronchial provocation tests in these patients supported the diagnosis of hard-metal-induced asthma and implicated cobalt as the agent responsible.
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