BACKGROUND: To report findings on ventilatory function and estimations of concentrations of personal breathing zone dust in Lancashire textile weavers. Weaving room dust is considered to be less harmful than that encountered in the cardroom or spinning room and weavers are generally thought to have less respiratory disability than carders or spinners. However, this occupational group has not been extensively studied. METHODS: Each person was given a respiratory symptom questionnaire (modified Medical Research Council, UK, questionnaire on respiratory diseases). Ventilatory function tests, forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) were performed on each person. A representative sample of workers from each occupational group underwent dust sampling in their personal breathing zone. Dust concentrations and ventilatory tests were analysed statistically with the Student's t test, Pearson's correlation coefficient, and forward step regression for relations with symptoms and environmental factors. Significance was p > or = 0.05. RESULTS: The FEV1 and FVC were reduced in workers with respiratory symptoms (non-specific chest tightness, shortness of breath, persistent cough, and wheezing) as well as in preparation room workers, current and former smokers, Asians, those working with predominantly cotton fibre (> 50% cotton) and starch size. Mean total dust concentration (pd1) in the personal breathing zone was 1.98 mg/m3. The corresponding value for total dust with large fibres lifted off the filter paper (pd2) was 1.55 mg/m3. There was a strong correlation (r = 0.94, p < 0.0001) between pd1 and pd2. Non-specific chest tightness was predicted by low dust concentrations and persistent cough by high dust concentrations. On regression analysis, impairment of ventilatory function (FEV1, FVC) was predicted by smoking, male sex, age, not working in the weaving shed, not being white, and personal dust concentrations. CONCLUSIONS: The FEV1 and FVC were impaired in smokers and those exposed to high dust concentrations in the personal breathing zone. Symptoms were inconsistently related to dust concentrations in the personal breathing zone.
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