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Biological dust exposure in the workplace is a risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  1. M C Matheson1,
  2. G Benke1,
  3. J Raven2,
  4. M R Sim1,
  5. H Kromhout3,
  6. R Vermeulen4,
  7. D P Johns5,
  8. E H Walters5,
  9. M J Abramson1
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Department of Allergy, Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, The Alfred Hospital, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3Division of Occupational and Environmental Health, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  4. 4Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD 20852-7240, USA
  5. 5Cardio-Respiratory Research Group, School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
    DrM Matheson
    Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Central and Eastern Clinical School, The Alfred Hospital, Commercial Road, Melbourne 3004, Victoria, Australia;


Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. Although the main risk factor is smoking, 15–19% of COPD even in smokers has been attributed to occupational exposures. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between occupational exposure and risk of COPD.

Methods: Participants were part of a cross sectional study of risk factors for COPD. A total of 1232 completed a detailed respiratory questionnaire, spirometric testsing and measurement of gas transfer. Job histories were coded according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations. These codes were then used to establish occupational exposures using the ALOHA job exposure matrix.

Results: The prevalence of emphysema was 2.4%, chronic obstructive bronchitis 1.8%, and COPD 3.4%. Subjects ever exposed to biological dusts had an increased risk of chronic obstructive bronchitis (OR 3.19; 95% CI 1.27 to 7.97), emphysema (OR 3.18; 95% CI 1.41 to 7.13), and COPD (OR 2.70, 95% CI 1.39 to 5.23). These risks were higher in women than in men. For biological dust, the risk of emphysema and COPD was also significantly increased in both the duration of exposure categories, again in women but not in men. No significant increased risks for COPD were found for mineral dust (OR 1.13; 95% CI 0.57 to 2.27) or gases/fumes (OR 1.63; 95% CI 0.83 to 3.22).

Conclusion: In this general population sample of adults, occupational exposures to biological dusts were associated with an increased risk of COPD which was higher in women. Preventive strategies should be aimed at reducing exposure to these agents in the workplace.

  • BHR, bronchial hyperreactivity
  • COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • FEV1, forced expiratory volume in 1 second
  • FVC, forced vital capacity
  • JEM, job exposure matrix
  • Tlco, lung carbon monoxide transfer
  • occupational exposure
  • chronic bronchitis
  • emphysema
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
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  • This study was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Windermere Foundation, and the Victorian Tuberculosis and Lung Association.

  • None of the authors has any financial relationship with a commercial entity that has an interest in the subject of this manuscript.

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