The data from a lung function study on 2209 white 45-54 year old South African gold miners in 1968-71 and at a five year follow up examination, were analysed to establish the actual loss of lung function associated with exposure to silica dust and with smoking. Ex-smokers were excluded from the analysis. Of the remaining 1625 subjects, 1249 had the five year follow up test of lung function. The estimated excess loss of lung function for a 50 year old gold miner, associated with 24 years of underground dust exposure of an average respirable dust concentration of 0.30 mg m-3 (14.4 ghm-3) was 236 ml of FEV1 (95% confidence interval (95% CI 134-337) and 217 ml of FVC (95% CI 110-324). By comparison, the effect of smoking one packet of cigarettes a day over 30 years was associated with an estimated loss of 552 ml of FEV1 (95% CI 461-644) and 335 ml of FVC (95% CI 170-500). The cumulative dust exposure was not associated with the longitudinal loss of FEV1 or FVC when the initial FEV1 and FVC were adjusted in the models. According to the predicted values, however, gold miners appear to have a greater loss of lung function from 50 to 55 years of age than that predicted for a general population.
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