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Dust related risks of clinically relevant lung functional deficits
  1. H A Cowie1,
  2. B G Miller1,
  3. R G Rawbone2,
  4. C A Soutar1
  1. 1Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, UK
  2. 2Health and Safety Executive, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C A Soutar
 Institute of Occupational Medicine, Research Park North, Riccarton, Edinburgh EH14 4AP, UK; Colin.soutar{at}


Aim: To quantify the risks of clinically important deficits of FEV1 in coal miners in relation to cumulative and average concentrations of respirable dust.

Methods: Data were studied from over 7000 men who had been surveyed in the late 1970s. Linear regression equations for the association between FEV1 and self-reported breathlessness on mild exertion were used to define clinically important levels of FEV1 deficit, and the probabilities that individuals with different dust exposures would experience these deficits were calculated.

Results: Levels of FEV1 were lower among breathless men than among others, with a large overlap of the distributions. The relations between standardised FEV1 and breathlessness were constant over all age and smoking groups. A decrease of 100 ml in FEV1 was associated with an increase of 1.12 in the odds of reporting breathlessness. FEV1 deficits of −0.367, −0.627, and −0.993 l (designated as “small”, “medium”, and “large” deficits) were, on average, associated with proportional increases of risks of breathlessness by factors of 1.5, 2.0, and 3.0 respectively. Cumulative respirable dust exposure ranged up to 726 gh/m3, mean 136 gh/m3 (British Medical Research Council measurement convention). An increase of 50 gh/m3 was associated with an increase of about 2% in the proportion of men with small deficits in FEV1. For medium deficits the increases ranged from 1.5% to 2%, depending on age. A similar pattern was seen for large deficits, but with smaller increases.

Conclusions: In the unlikely event of continuous exposure at the proposed new maximum respirable dust limit for British mines of 3 mg/m3 (ISO-CEN measurement convention) for a working lifetime, the risk of a medium deficit of FEV1 for a non-smoker at age 60 would be estimated to be 34%, compared with 25% for zero dust exposure; for smokers, about 54% compared with 44%.

  • ECSE, European Coal and Steel Community
  • FEV1, forced expiratory volume in one second
  • FVC, forced vital capacity
  • PFR, Pneumoconiosis Field Research
  • lung function
  • breathlessness
  • coalmine dust
  • exposure-response

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