In a 13 year follow up study conducted among residents of Cracow the relation of annual rate of decline in FEV1 to occupational exposures was analysed. The study group consisted of 696 men and 983 women aged 19-60 at the start of the study in 1968. They were interviewed three times, in 1968, 1973, and 1981, and decline in FEV1 was estimated for each subject from spirometric measurements in 1968 and 1981. The interviews provided data on exposure at the workplace to dusts, variable temperature, and chemicals or irritating gases, which established duration and time of the exposure. The FEV1 mean level, height, and smoking habits were considered as confounders in the analysis. The study indicated that the most pronounced influence on decline in FEV1 was prolonged and continuing exposure to variable temperature. The effects of dusts, independent of exposure to variable temperature, were much smaller but analysis in occupational subgroups suggest that dust may be important in some, such as workers in the building materials and pottery industry. Relatively immediate effects of exposure to chemicals were detected independently of effects of other exposures. The estimated effects of occupational exposures were of a similar magnitude as those of tobacco smoking though related to much smaller groups. Both effects were additive in accelerating decline in lung function. These results, obtained in the general population and less biased by selection than studies performed in industrial settings, show the importance of occupational factors in the natural history of limitation of airflow.
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