A small cohort of 194 men with low exposure to fibrous tremolite (mean 0.75 f/ml y) in the mining and milling of vermiculite in South Carolina experienced 51 deaths 15 years or more from first employment. The SMR (all causes) was 1.17 reflecting excess deaths from circulatory disease. There were four deaths from lung cancer and 3.31 expected (SMR 1.21, 95% CI 0.33-3.09). Three of the four deaths were in the lowest exposure category (less than 1 f/ml y); no death was attributed to mesothelioma or pneumoconiosis. These findings contrast with those in Montana where the vermiculite ore was heavily contaminated with fibrous tremolite. A radiographic survey of 86 current and recent South Carolina employees found four with small parenchymal opacities (greater than or equal to 1/0) and seven with pleural thickening. These proportions were not higher than in a non-exposed group and much lower than had been observed in Montana. Examination of sputum from 76 current employees showed that only two specimens contained typical ferruginous bodies, confirming low cumulative fibre exposure. Any possible adverse effects of work with vermiculite, minimally contaminated with fibrous or non-fibrous tremolite, were thus beyond the limits of detection in this workforce.
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