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  1. Keith Palmer, Editor

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    NUISANCE DUST AND THE ROLE OF SURFACE AREA

    So called “nuisance” dusts (low-solubility, low-toxicity particles) are regulated in occupational settings on the basis of their mass. However, ultrafine nanoparticles may be more toxic than equivalent mass larger particles. To investigate whether surface area is a more relevant metric than mass, Monteiller et al conducted an in vitro experiment.1 Human alveolar epithelial type II cells were treated with various sizes of titanium dioxide or carbon black particles and certain markers of pro-inflammatory response were measured. In all assays, nanoparticles produced a much stronger response than same-mass doses of fine particles. Exposure–response relationships were observed, consistent with the hypothesis that the high surface area of nanoparticles is an important factor driving inflammatory potential.


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    CELL PHONE USE AND RISK OF BRAIN TUMOURS

    Concerns about the possible effects of cell phone use have prompted numerous investigations, notably those evaluating risk of brain tumours. Hardell et al draw current evidence in this area together and summarise the findings of two cohort and 16 case–control studies involving mobile phone use, including a number of studies with a reasonable length of follow-up.2 They report “a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma”. In meta-analysis, the odds of ipsilateral phone use were increased 2.4- and 2.0-fold respectively, assuming a latency period of ⩾10 years. Several much-discussed issues limit the evidence base (typically including small numbers, heterogeneity of outcome, retrospective self-reporting of exposure and the need for long follow-up periods to evaluate longer-term health risks), but in reporting these findings the authors call for a precautionary stance and stress the need for continuing long-term research into use of mobile phones.


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    DRINKING AT WORK: ROLE OF WORKPLACE NORMS AND CULTURE

    Workplace attitudes to alcohol are likely to influence drinking behaviour, both at work and outside it. This is the message of a paper by Barrientos-Gutierrez et al, which examines the impact of workgroup membership on drinking patterns.3 The authors studied 5338 workers from 137 supervisor workgroups in 16 work sites. Multivariate analysis suggested that members belonging to workgroups with an abstemious culture (tending to discourage drinking) were substantially more likely to be teetotal at work and also substantially less likely to be heavy or frequent drinkers overall. The authors consider that public efforts at reducing drink-related problems, illnesses and injuries, could usefully incorporate social interventions in the workplace.


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    ELSEWHERE IN THE JOURNAL

    This month’s issue of the Journal also includes a simple diagnostic model that can be used to rule out silicosis in the health surveillance of construction workers,4 a novel investigation of a surfactant blend agent used in polymer production5 and an educational review by Checkoway et al6 on a topic of importance in occupational epidemiology—how to tailor the choice of study design to the research objectives in question.


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