OBJECTIVE--Man made mineral fibres imitate asbestos and produce tumours of the pleura in animals. To answer the question, Does prolonged exposure to fibreglass adversely affect pulmonary function or produce radiographic abnormalities in human subjects? we studied workers in a midwestern appliance plant where refrigerator doors and previously entire cabinets were insulated with fibreglass sheeting and loose rotary spun fibreglass. METHODS--Spirometry and lung volumes were measured, respiratory and occupational questionnaires were administered, and chest x-ray films were read for pneumoconiosis using International Labour Office (ILO) 1980 criteria in 284 workers with exposure of 20 years or more. RESULTS--Expiratory flows were reduced including FEV1 (mean 90.3% of predicted (pr), FEF25-75 (85.5% pr), and FEF75-85 (76.2% pr). Forced vital capacity was significantly reduced (92.8% pr) and total lung capacity was significantly increased (109.2% pr). In white male smokers, a group large enough for comparisons, parameters of pulmonary function were reduced further in the presence of irregular opacities. Forty three workers (15.1%) had evidence of pneumoconiosis on chest radiographs: 26 of these (9.1%), had no known exposure to asbestos and 17 (6.0%) had some exposure. The best judgement was that in 36 (13.0%), pulmonary opacities or pleural abnormalities were due to fibreglass. CONCLUSION--Commercial rotary spun fibreglass used for insulating appliances appears to produce human disease that is similar to asbestosis.
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