During 1990 all present and retired china clay workers in the United Kingdom were invited to take part in a chest health survey. A total of 4401 china clay workers participated representing over 70% of current employees and 17% of pensioners. The survey consisted of a chest x ray film, lung function measurements, and a questionnaire on respiratory symptoms and smoking habits. The chest x ray films were read by three readers to the International Labour Office (ILO) 1980 classification. Full details of occupational history for each participant were available and for each employee an estimate of total exposure to china clay dust was derived from representative dust concentrations for each location and job. These were based on measured dust concentrations after 1978 and on estimates before 1978. Analyses of the data were carried out to investigate the relations between exposure, x ray film category, lung function, and respiratory symptoms. The percentage of people with small opacities greater than major x ray film category 1 was 0.8% (lower than in previous studies). Dust concentrations have been reduced in recent years, averaging 1.7 mg m-3 for dryers in 1990 compared with 3.5 mg m-3 in 1978. The lower effect of exposure after 1971, compared with earlier exposure, was confirmed by the analyses. After 1971 the milling of dried china clay (Atritor mills) was found to be the occupation with the highest effect on x ray film category. The relation between total exposure to china clay dust and x ray film category is such that a typical non-smoker worker employed in the most dusty of current occupations may expect to reach the lower limit of category 1 after about 42 years continuous employment in that job at current exposures. Both forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) were found (as in other studies) to decline with age, more rapidly for smokers than non-smokers at the rates for FVC of 0.035 l/y and 0.033 l/y, whereas for FEV1 the rates are 0.039 l/y for smokers and 0.034 l/y for non-smokers. Changes in x ray film category are also related to lung function , a change of one major category being equivalent to about six years of aging in its effect on FEV1.
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