OBJECTIVES--This survey was conducted to investigate current lung function levels in operatives working with cotton and man made fibres. Dust concentrations, smoking history, and occupational details were recorded so that factors influencing lung function could be identified. METHODS--A cross sectional study of respiratory symptoms and lung function was made in 1057 textile spinning operatives of white caucasian extraction. This represented 96.9% of the total available working population to be studied. Most (713) worked currently with cotton. The remainder worked with man made fibre. Lung function was assessed by measuring forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC). Exposure to cotton dust was measured in the work area and personal breathing zones, and retrospective exposure to cotton dust over a working life was estimated with accurate work history and best available hygiene data. RESULTS--3.5% of all operatives had byssinosis, 55 (5.3%) chronic bronchitis, 36 (3.5%) work related persistent cough, 55 (5.3%) non-byssinotic work related chest tightness, and 56 (5.3%) work related wheeze. A total of 212 static work area dust samples (range 0.04-3.23 mg/m3) and 213 personal breathing zone samples (range 0.14-24.95 mg/m3) were collected. Percentage of predicted FEV1 was reduced in current smokers (mean 89.5, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 88-91) in comparison with non-smokers (93.1, 90.5-94.1) and FVC was reduced in operatives currently working with man made fibre (95.3, 93.8-96.9) in comparison with cotton (97.8, 96.6-99.0). Regression analysis identified smoking (P < 0.01), increasing age (P < 0.01), increasing time worked in the waste room (P < 0.01), and male sex (P < 0.05) as being associated with a lower FEV1 and FVC. Current and retrospective cotton dust exposures did not appear as predictor variables in the regression analysis although in a univariate analysis, FEV1 was reduced in those operatives exposed to high dust concentrations assessed by personal and work area sampling. DISCUSSION--This study has documented loss of lung function in association with exposure to cotton dust. Those operatives with work related symptoms had significantly lower FEV1 and FVC than asymptomatic workers. Although lung function seemed to be affected by high dust exposures when operatives were stratified into high and low exposure groups, regression analysis did not identify current dust concentrations as an independent factor influencing loss. Smoking habit was found to explain most of the measured change in FEV1 and FVC. It is likely that smoking and dust exposure interact to cause loss of lung function in cotton textile workers.
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