On the assumption that short term changes in lung function may reflect the potential for a long term decline the evolution of lung function indices in 25 steelworkers from a strandcasting department and in 11 comparable steelworkers not exposed to dust was investigated over an almost uninterrupted 21 day working period and over three different workshifts. The mean total dust level in the strandcasting department, assessed by personal sampling, was 11.8 mg/m3. All subjects were examined at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of their first (day 1) morning shift (0600 to 1400), their last (day 14) afternoon shift (1400 to 2200), and their last (day 21) night shift (2200 to 0600). Indices measured were vital capacity (VC), forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and in three seconds (FEV3), forced expiratory flow over the middle half of the forced vital capacity (FEF25-75), peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), the slope of the N2 plateau (delta N2) and the closing volume (CV) of the single breath oxygen test. Differences in indices between initial values (0600 on day 1) and final values (0500 on day 21) were not significant in the control group (except delta N2 which became lower); in the casting group there were significant (p less than 0.05) decreases in FEF25-75 and FEV3, but these decreases were not significantly greater than in the control group. Lung function changes were not significant in either group over the morning shift. During the afternoon there were significant decreases in spirometric indices in the casting group, with no significant decreases in the control group, but the interactions between exposure and time were generally not significant. During the night shift, however, the decreases in FEV1 and FEF25-75 observed in the strandcasting group were significantly more pronounced than in the control group. The single breath test, which many subjects failed to perform correctly on each occasion, showed no significant changes in closing volumes, and an "improvement" of delta N2 over the morning and the night shift in the control but not the exposed subjects needs to be interpreted with caution. The more pronounced decrease in spirometric indices, suggestive of slight airways obstruction, found over the night shift in the strandcasting workers is attributed to their working environment.
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