OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of chronic exposure to welding fumes on pulmonary function by a direct estimate of fumes accumulated in the lungs. METHODS: The strength of the residual magnetic field of externally magnetised lungs (LMF) was used as an estimate of fumes accumulated in the lungs. The results of forced spirometry manoeuvres obtained in 143 of 153 male welders in the original sample were cross sectionally evaluated according to LMF. Seven conventional forced spirogram indices and two time domain spirogram indices were used as pulmonary function indices, and height squared proportional correction was performed when necessary. RESULTS: The distribution of LMF values was considerably skewed towards positive. There was a weak but significant positive relation between age and log transformed LMF. Obstructive pulmonary function indices correlated well with LMF. After adjustment for age and smoking, however, a significant association with LMF was only found with percentage rate of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1%) divided by forced vital capacity (FVC) and mu, and average component of assumed time constant distribution of lung peripheral units. Neither FVC nor vital capacity (VC), as indices of restrictive disorders, showed a significant association with LMF. Based on the results of multiple regression analyses, a 0.6% decrease in FEV1% and 0.039 unit increase in mu were expected for each doubling of LMF. CONCLUSION: Obstructive changes in pulmonary function were found to be related to level of cumulative exposure to welding fume in male Japanese arc welders after controlling for age and smoking, assuming that LMF adequately reflects accumulation of welding fumes in the lungs.
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