BACKGROUND: Exposure to wood dust can cause a variety of lung problems, including chronic airflow obstruction. METHODS: Forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), forced expiratory ratio (FEV1/FVC x 100), forced expiratory flow (FEF), forced mid expiratory flow (FMF), peak expiratory flow (PEF), and respiratory symptoms (cough, phlegm, breathlessness, wheezing, and nasal symptoms) were recorded in 145 non-smoking workers (77 male, 68 female) exposed to wood dust in a furniture factory in Umtata, Republic of Transkei, and 152 non-smoking control subjects (77 male, 75 female) from a bottling factory with a clean environment. RESULTS: After adjustment for age and standing height the forced expiratory indices were significantly lower in the exposed male workers than in the control subjects. FEF and PEF in the exposed men were 81.3% and 89.4% of predicted values and were lower than other indices. FVC in exposed men showed a significant inverse correlation with exposure (expressed in number of years of employment). The FVC was reduced by 26 ml per year of employment. The proportion of men with an FEV1/FVC below 70 was higher in exposed workers than in control subjects and higher in the exposed workers with more years of employment. The exposed workers had more respiratory symptoms than the control subjects, the prevalence, especially of cough and nasal symptoms, increasing with the increase in the number of years of employment. CONCLUSION: Workers exposed to pine and fibre dust have more respiratory symptoms and a greater risk of airflow obstruction.
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