Relations between pulmonary symptoms and exposure to respirable dust and sulphur dioxide (SO2) were evaluated for 145 silicon carbide (SiC) production workers with an average of 13.9 (range 3-41) years of experience in this industry. Eight hour time weighted average exposures to SO2 were 1.5 ppm or less with momentary peaks up to 4 ppm. Cumulative SO2 exposure averaged 1.94 (range 0.02-19.5) ppm-years. Low level respirable dust exposures also occurred (0.63 +/- 0.26 mg/m3). After adjusting for age and current smoking status in multiple logistic regression models, highly significant, positive, dose dependent relations were found between cumulative and average exposure to SO2, and symptoms of usual and chronic phlegm, usual and chronic wheeze, and mild exertional dyspnoea. Mild and moderate dyspnoea were also associated with most recent exposure to SO2. Cough was not associated with SO2. No pulmonary symptoms were associated with exposure to respirable dust nor were any symptoms attributable to an interaction between dust and SO2. Cigarette smoking was strongly associated with cough, phlegm, and wheezing, but not dyspnoea. A greater than additive (synergistic) effect between smoking and exposure to SO2 was present for most symptoms. These findings suggest that long term, variable exposure to SO2 at 1.5 ppm or less was associated with significantly raised rates of phlegm, wheezing, and mild dyspnoea in SiC production workers, and that current threshold limits for SO2 may not adequately protect workers in this industry.
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