Respiratory symptoms and abnormalities of lung function were studied in 84 female and 27 male hemp workers employed in two textile mills (A and B) processing soft hemp (C sativa). In mill A 46 women and 27 men were investigated and 38 female workers were studied in mill B. Forty nine women and 30 men from a non-dusty industry served as controls. A significantly higher prevalence of almost all chronic respiratory symptoms was found in female hemp workers when compared to control workers. Among the men these differences were significant for nasal catarrh and sinusitis. A high prevalence of byssinosis was found among female hemp workers in both mills (group A, 47.8%; group B, 57.9%) as well as in the male workers (66.7%). Statistically significant across shift reductions in lung function were found for all ventilatory capacity measurements in female and male hemp workers varying from 7.1% for forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) to 15.1% for flow rates at 50% vital capacity (FEF50). Measured Monday baseline values before the work shift were significantly lower than expected for hemp workers, being particularly reduced for FEF25 and FEF50. The data suggest that occupational exposure to hemp dust is a significant risk factor for the development of acute and chronic lung disease in workers employed in this textile industry.
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