Forty two of 125 former workers in a factory in Syracuse, New York, which manufactured hard metal parts from tungsten carbide and cobalt, were studied by chest radiographs, spirometry, and plethysmographically determined lung volumes. The plant was closed in 1982 and the studies were performed in 1983-5. Recorded measurements of carbide dust concentrations were only mildly excessive by modern standards, but deceitful efforts to reduce the apparent concentration of dust were known to have occurred during an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Lung biopsies in four cases in the study and necropsy in one of the 83 cases not studied during life showed giant cell interstitial pneumonia and appreciable concentrations of tungsten carbide. This information indicates that exposure was substantial. Four workers had evidence of pulmonary fibrosis by chest radiographs; two of these workers had normal pulmonary function. Fourteen had abnormal pulmonary function, five of whom had a restrictive pattern, eight a pattern of air trapping, and one a combined pattern. Thus radiographic, or functional abnormalities, or both occurred in 16 of the 42 cases studied. No correlation with duration of exposure was established. Progressive clinically important disease (one fatal) has been found in four ex-workers, two in each of the restrictive and air trapping groups. These findings suggest that poorly regulated dust concentrations in a hard metals factory possibly cause pulmonary abnormalities and sometimes severe illness.
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