OBJECTIVES: To analyse the mortality patterns of former Dutch coal miners, focusing on coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) in relation to pre-existing impairment of lung function. METHODS: 3790 selected miners, medically examined between 1952 and 1963, were followed up to the end of 1991 with the municipal population registries and the causes of death from the death certificates were ascertained and converted to the codes from the ninth revision of the international classification of diseases (ICD-9). Mortality comparisons were made with the male population in The Netherlands, resulting in standardised mortality ratios (SMRs). 3367 miners had radiological manifestation of CWP at medical examinations. RESULTS: 80% of the miners died during the follow up period. Excess mortalities from CWP (SMR 4523) and COPD (SMR 179) were found. Coal miners without CWP also showed an increased mortality from COPD (SMR 2913). A diminished lung function (forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), or FEV1/FVC (forced vital capacity) ratio) at medical examination resulted in a significantly increased SMR for COPD (322 and 212 respectively) whereas normal lung function yielded expected mortalities from COPD. A positive correlation also emerged between diminished lung function and the SMR due to CWP. The body mass index (BMI) at the moment of medical examination was correlated with the risk of dying of COPD and CWP: a decreasing BMI resulting in an increased SMR. CONCLUSIONS: Not only infectious diseases and CWP but also COPD is an important cause of occupational mortality in miners with extensive exposure to coal mine dust. No obvious connection between pre-existing CWP and the COPD mortality exists. Impaired FEV1 and FEV1/FVC ratios are predictors of an increased risk of COPD death. The BMI seems to indicate the severity of the COPD, resulting in premature death.
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