The mortality risk of iron ore (haematite) miners between 1970 and 1982 was investigated in a retrospective cohort study of workers from two mines, Longyan and Taochong, in China. The cohort was limited to men and consisted of 5406 underground miners and 1038 unexposed surface workers. Among the 490 underground miners who died, 205 (42%) died of silicosis and silicotuberculosis and 98 (20%) of cancer, including 29 cases (5.9%) of lung cancer. The study found an excess risk of non-malignant respiratory disease and of lung cancer among haematite miners. The standardised mortality ratio for lung cancer compared with nationwide male population rates was significantly raised (SMR = 3.7), especially for those miners who were first employed underground before mechanical ventilation and wet drilling were introduced (SMR = 4.8); with jobs involving heavy exposure to dust, radon, and radon daughters (SMR = 4.2); with a history of silicosis (SMR = 5.3); and with silicotuberculosis (SMR = 6.6). No excess risk of lung cancer was observed in unexposed workers (SMR = 1.2). Among current smokers, the risk of lung cancer increased with the level of exposure to dust. The mortality from all cancer, stomach, liver, and oesophageal cancer was not raised among underground miners. An excess risk of lung cancer among underground mine workers which could not be attributed solely to tobacco use was associated with working conditions underground, especially with exposure to dust and radon gas and with the presence of non-malignant respiratory disease. Because of an overlap of exposures to dust and radon daughters, the independent effects of these factors could not be evaluated.
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