Objectives Welding fume is suspected to accelerate the decline of lung function and development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The aim of this study was to examine the relationship between welding fume exposure and COPD in Korean shipyard welders.
Method 240 male welders who were working at two shipyards and took the annual health examination including pulmonary function test in 2010 participated in this study. A questionnaire about smoking habits and occupational history was administered. PFT was carried out with strict quality control measures. Exposed fume concentrations were estimated using 884 welding fume measurements taken 2002–2009 in one of the shipyards. Linear multiple regression was employed to evaluate the association between cumulative fume exposure and lung function parameters. Logistic regression was employed to test the excess risk of COPD by cumulative fume exposure. Age, height, the smoking amount, and cumulative fume exposure were incorporated as independent variables in those models.
Results Mean age was 48, and mean work duration was 18 years. The mean cumulative fume exposure was 7.7 mg/m3. The prevalence of COPD was 14.6%. FEV1 and FVC showed negative correlations with cumulative fume exposure, but statistically non-significant. Odds ratios of COPD were significantly elevated for middle (5.02, 95% CI:1.27–33.55) and high exposure group (6.20, 95% CI:1.41–44.98) compared to the low fume exposure group.
Conclusions Our findings suggest a potential association between metal fume exposure and COPD. Further study with a prospective design is needed to investigate the excessive decline of lung function by welding fume exposure.
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