The relation between quantified emphysema and measured lung content of coal and silica was investigated in the lungs of 264 deceased underground coalworkers who had been exposed to mixed coal and silica dust. Lung specimens obtained at postmortem and inflated and fixed under standard conditions were used to quantify the extent of emphysema and then to measure the amount of coal and silica present in the lungs at the time of death. These data were combined with clinical and other pathological information from the subjects. Multiple regression analysis showed that the extent of emphysema (E score) had a strong positive quantitative relation with coal content of the lungs (p < 0.0003), age (p < 0.0001), and smoking (p < 0.0001). There was a significant negative interaction of uncertain biological importance between coal content of the lungs and smoking (p < 0.004; E score = -1.79 + 0.62 coal + 0.06 age + 0.21 smoking -0.17 coal x smoking; adjusted R2 = 0.25). In lifelong non-smokers emphysema was particularly strongly related to coal content and age (coal: p < 0.001; age: p < 0.002; E score = -1.56 + 0.78 coal + 0.06 age; adjusted R2 = 0.66). The relation was basically unchanged by adding a lung silica content term. Emphysema score was highly negatively correlated with forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1; % predicted, obtained within five years of death) (r = -0.44, p < 0.0001). Degree of lung fibrosis was highly positively associated with lung silica content (chi 2(1) = 12.9, p < 0.0003). These results provide strong evidence that emphysema in coalworkers is actually related to lung coal content. The role silica in development of emphysema, however remains unclear.
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