Sintered permanent magnets are made from the powdered metals of cobalt, nickel, aluminium, and various rare earths. During production, exposure to respirable crystalline silica and asbestos may also occur. Reported here is a cross sectional study of 310 current and 52 retired hourly employees who worked 10 or more years making sintered magnets. Each participant had a chest radiograph, spirometry, and completed a respiratory questionnaire. Illness logs were also reviewed to calculate the incidence of recorded respiratory disorders. The prevalences of abnormalities in pulmonary function and respiratory symptoms were not higher than found in an external referent population. Although the prevalence of diffuse parenchymal opacities consistent with pneumoconiosis (four workers) was similar to the referent population, one worker had radiographic findings consistent with silicosis and two workers had profusion scores of 1/2 or above, not seen in the referent group. The incidence of reported respiratory conditions in the log, including asthma, was 10 times that of other manufacturers in the same industrial classification category. Excessive exposures to cobalt, nickel, and respirable silica were shown by environmental measurements.
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