All available workers engaged in bagging an artificial crystalline aluminium silicate--the kiln-dried residue from the calcining and water extraction of alunite (a hydrated sulphate of aluminium and potassium) that is currently classified as a nuisance dust--were studied after a complaint of respiratory and systemic symptoms, including arthritis, by an employee of the factory, who showed physiological and radiographic evidence of diffuse pulmonary fibrosis and in whom lung biopsy showed diffuse fibrosis with granulomas. Inhalation challenge produced a transient decrease in transfer factor and transfer factor standardised for alveolar volume. Twenty-five subjects were known to have been exposed at some time to the dust of alunite-residue. Of the 17 who could be contacted, all agreed to attend for respiratory questionnaire and occupational history, pulmonary function testing (spirometry, lung volumes, gas transfer), and posteroanterior chest radiograph. Six subjects considered that occupational exposure to the dust was responsible for respiratory symptoms. Three subjects had abnormality of the chest radiograph consistent with pulmonary fibrosis. The mean percentage of predicted transfer factor standardised for effective alveolar volume was 71.1% in subjects with abnormal chest radiographs and 86.6% in subjects with normal radiographs (p = 0.10). There was a trend in the correlation between the percentage of predicted transfer factor standardised for effective alveolar volume and total dust exposure (sum of the products of grade of severity of each exposure period and duration of each exposure period in months) (r = 0.40 p = 0.10). This study suggests that there may be a relation between inhalation of the dust of this form of aluminium silicate and pulmonary fibrosis.
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