When considering rubber tyre manufacturing from an occupational health viewpoint, three areas may be identified in which exposure to respirable materials are potentially harmful: the processing, curing, and talc areas. A study of the ventilatory function of the entire work force employed in the processing area in a rubber tyre manufacturing plant was undertaken to determine whether an acute reduction in lung function occurs over the course of their working shift (the plant worked a three shift system) and whether a chronic exposure to the occupational airborne contaminants causes permanent changes in lung function. The ventilatory function was measured at the worksite at the beginning and immediately after the end of the workshift. No evidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was found and in most cases no significant decline in FEV1 was observed. Only one of the 79 individuals showed a moderate obstruction, measured by the ratio FEV1/FVC which gave the value of 0.55, with no variation over the shift. For non-smokers, the FVC, FEV1, and FEF25-75% were lower in those exposed for more than five years than in those exposed for five years or less. A similar pattern was also observed in the FVC and FEV1 of the smokers. None of these differences was statistically significant. Within each exposure group the pulmonary function of the smokers was lower than that of the non-smokers, but the only significant difference was found in the values of FEF25-75%. Only one man showed a decline in the FEV1/FVC ratio over the shift, but during each shift, a decrease in all the lung function tests was observed. The decrease was smallest during the first of the three shifts. These results are thought to support the hypothesis that there are acute adverse effects over an eight hour shift. Further investigations are needed to discover whether these acute changes in lung function result from a chemical stimulation or irritant receptors in the airways.
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