OBJECTIVE: To investigate the occurrence of chronic respiratory effects of exposure to organic dust in the potato processing industry. METHODS: Self reported chronic respiratory symptoms and spirometric lung function were assessed in a cross sectional study among 135 potato processing workers. A comprehensive study of current exposure to dust, endotoxin, and potato antigens had been performed previously. Workers were grouped into low and high exposure categories for each of the three exposure indices. Relations between exposure concentrations and respiratory health variables were investigated either by calculating prevalence rate ratios or by performing linear regression analyses. Atopy was assessed by measuring total immunoglobulin E (IgE) and specific IgE to five common aeroallergens in serum samples of workers. RESULTS: Evident relations between current exposure indices and respiratory health in the entire group were not found. Workers employed < or = 5 years showed a two-fold higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms, lower lung function, and higher endotoxin exposure than workers employed for > 5 years. Also, atopy was more prevalent in workers employed < or = 5 years. After stratification for duration of employment, negative effects of endotoxin on lung function among workers employed < or = 5 years were suggested. CONCLUSIONS: This study does not show chronic respiratory effects of exposure to organic dust in the potato processing industry, despite the fact that the levels of exposure to endotoxin found in this industry have been reported to be associated with decreases in lung function in other occupational settings. A likely explanation for not detecting apparent effects might be that many symptomatic workers drop out of this industry a few years after starting the job, suggesting a healthy worker effect.
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