A case-control study of malignant and non-malignant respiratory disease among employees of the Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation's Newark, Ohio plant was undertaken. The aim was to determine the extent to which exposures to substances in the Newark plant environment, to non-workplace factors, or to a combination may play a part in the risk of mortality from respiratory disease among workers in this plant. A historical environmental reconstruction of the plant was undertaken to characterise the exposure profile for workers in this plant from its beginnings in 1934 to the end of 1987. The exposure profile provided estimates of cumulative exposure to respirable fibres, fine fibres, asbestos, talc, formaldehyde, silica, and asphalt fumes. Employment histories from Owens-Corning Fiberglas provided information on employment characteristics (duration of employment, year of hire, age at first hire) and an interview survey obtained information on demographic characteristics (birthdate, race, education, marital state, parent's ethnic background, and place of birth), lifetime residence, occupational and smoking histories, hobbies, and personal and family medical history. Matched, unadjusted odds ratios (ORs) were used to assess the association between lung cancer or non-malignant respiratory disease and the cumulative exposure history, demographic characteristics, and employment variables. Only the smoking variables and employment characteristics (year of hire and age at first hire) were statistically significant for lung cancer. For non-malignant respiratory disease, only the smoking variables were statistically significant in the univariate analysis. Of the variables entered into a conditional logistic regression model for lung cancer, only smoking (smoked for six months or more v never smoked: OR = 26.17, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 3.316-206.5) and age at first hire (35 and over v less than 35: OR = 0.244, 95% CI 0.083-0.717) were statistically significant. There were, however, increased ORs for year of employment (first hired before 1945 v first hire after 1945: OR = 1.944, 95% CI 0.850-4.445), talc (cumulative exposure >1000 fibres/ml days v never exposed: OR = 1.355, 95% CI 0.407-5.515), and asphalt fumes (cumulative exposure >0.01 mg/m(3) days v never exposed: OR 1.131, 95% CI 0.468-2.730). For non-malignant respiratory disease, only the smoking variable was significant in the conditional logistic regression analysis (OR = 2.637, 95% CI 1.146-6.069). There were raised ORs for the higher cumulative exposure categories for respirable fibres, asbestos, silica, and asphalt fumes. For both silica and asphalt fumes, ORs were more than double the reference groups for all exposure categories. A limited number of subjects were exposed to fine fibres. The scarcity of cases and controls limits the extent to which analyses for fine fibre may be carried out. Within those limitations, among those who had worked with fine fibre, the unadjusted, unmatched OR for lung cancer was (1.0 (95% CI 0.229-4.373) and for non-malignant respiratory disease, the OR was 1.5 (95% CI 0.336-6.702). The unadjusted OR for lung cancer for exposure to fine fibre was consistent with that for all respirable fibre and does not suggest an association. For non-malignant respiratory disease, the unadjusted OR for fine fibre was opposite in direction from that for all respirable fibres. Within the limitations of the available data on fibre, there is o suggestion that exposure to fine fibre has resulted in an increase in risk of lung cancer. The increased OR for non-malignant respiratory disease is inconclusive. The results of this population, in this place and time, neither respirable fibres nor any of the substances investigated as part of the plant environment are statistically significant factors for lung cancer risk although there are increased ORs for exposure to talc and asphalt fumes. Smoking is the most important factors in risk for lung cancer in this population. The situation is less clear for non-malignant respiratory disease. Unlike lung cancer, non-malignant respiratory represents a constellation of outcomes and not a single well defined end point. Although smoking was the only statistically significant factor for non-malignant respiratory disease in this analysis, the ORs for respirable fibres, asbestos, silica, and asphalt fumes were greater than unity for the highest exposure categories. Although the raised ORs for these substances may represent the results of a random process, they may be suggestive of an increased risk and require further investigation.
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