45 granite crushers and 45 age and smoking matched referents underwent pulmonary function tests in 1976 and 1988. On average, the granite crushers at follow up had worked for 22 years, were 52 (range 36-78) years old, and had inhaled a cumulated amount of 7 mg of silica in the respirable dust fraction. Between 1976 and 1988 the average concentration of respirable quartz in air was 0.16 mg/m3 (threshold limit value (TLV) = 0.10 mg/m3). In 1988 the granite crushers had somewhat lower forced expiratory flows (forced expiratory volume in one second/vital capacity (FEV1/VC) -4.5% and forced midexpiratory flow FEF50 -15%) compared with the referents and a more uneven ventilation distribution (17% higher slope of phase III in the nitrogen single breath curve). Five smoking granite crushers, but none of the referents, had an FEV1 < 80% of the predicted. During the 12 year interval the granite crushers had--compared with the matched referents--a greater decrease in FEV1 (-4.6%), FEV1/VC (-5.4%), maximal expiratory flow, (-8%) and FEF50 (-14%), and a larger increase in phase III and static compliance (p < 0.02 in all variables). The functional changes suggest the presence of airways obstruction and increased compliance of the lungs. Exposure to silica at concentrations of about twice the present TLV was thus associated with airways obstruction and loss of elastic recoil rather than fibrosis and a restrictive function loss as seen in silicosis. The changes were on average small, but in some tobacco smokers more pronounced changes were found.
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