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Determinants of chronic bronchitis and lung dysfunction in Western Australian gold miners.
  1. C D Holman,
  2. P Psaila-Savona,
  3. M Roberts,
  4. J C McNulty
  1. Public Health Service, Health Department of Western Australia, Perth.


    The relation of chronic bronchitis and respiratory dysfunction to age, tobacco smoking, and occupational exposure to surface and underground mining operations were examined in a cross sectional survey of 1363 men employed in the Kalgoorlie mining industry in 1985. Overall, the prevalence of chronic bronchitis was 14%. Eleven per cent of the workers had obstructive lung disorder (FEV1/FVC less than 0.70) and 9% had restrictive lung disorder (FVC less than 0.80 of predicted for height and age). There was little change in the prevalence of chronic bronchitis from that observed in a survey of the same industry in 1961-2. Only 1% of the workers in 1985 had radiographic signs of silicosis compared with 22% in 1961-2. Age, smoking, and underground mining experience all exerted strong effects on the development of chronic bronchitis with or without associated respiratory function abnormalities. After control of confounding by age and smoking, it was estimated that compared with a lifetime non-miner, the odds ratio (OR) of chronic bronchitis was 1.8 (95% confidence interval, 1.0-3.3) for one to nine years underground mining gold, 2.5 (1.2-5.2) for 10-19 years, and 5.1 (2.4-10.9) for 20 or more years. Underground mining of minerals other than gold was also associated with chronic bronchitis (OR = 5.1; 95% CI, 1.1-25.0) whereas exclusive surface mining had only a small empirical effect (OR = 1.3; 95% CI, 0.6-2.5). It is estimated that the proportion of cases of chronic bronchitis in working underground miners due to occupational factors is 50%. The results support the existence of an industrial cause of chronic bronchitis, although caution must be exercised in generalising the results to miners with progressive and sever respiratory impairment.

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