A homogeneous batch of dew retted hackled flax was divided into two portions. One was untreated and the other was steamed for 45 minutes at 125 degrees C in three pressure/vacuum cycles in an autoclave. Dust was collected when the two flaxes were separately processed by industrial doubler and stapler machines. From untreated flax 7.2 g of dust was collected per kilogram of flax after two processing operations. From the steamed flax 4.4 g of flax was obtained per kilogram after four operations. A method was devised to disperse the dust in a room to produce dust levels similar to those encountered in a dusty mill (4.5-5.7 mg/m3). Twelve normal volunteers from the managerial staff of the linen industry of Northern Ireland inhaled the dust over six hour periods. With the untreated flax decreases were obtained in mean forced expiratory measurements of 7.6% in FEV1 and 4.5% in FVC (p less than 0.01). A double blind crossover comparison of similar levels of untreated and steamed flax dusts showed 30% less impairment of the forced expirations with steamed than with untreated flax (p less than 0.05). If these responses reflect the long term airway effects of flax dust then the steaming of flax may help in reducing byssinosis.
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