Tentative explanatory variable of lung dust concentration in gold miners exposed to crystalline silica.
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INTRODUCTION: The first objective of the study was to investigate the relationships between quantitative lung mineral dust burdens, dust exposure history, and pathological fibrosis grading in silicotic workers. The second objective was to evaluate the association between particle size parameters, concentration of retained silica particles and the severity of the silicosis. Sixty-seven paraffin-embedded lung tissue samples of silicotic patients were analyzed. The cases of silicosis included 39 non-lung cancer patients and 28 patients with lung cancer. All of the cases were gold miners in the Province of Ontario, Canada. MATERIAL AND METHODS: Particles, both angular and fibrous, were extracted from lung parenchyma by a bleach digestion method, mounted on copper microscopic grids by a carbon replica technique, and analyzed by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS). Quartz concentration was also determined by X-ray diffraction (XRD) on a silver membrane filter after the extraction from the lung parenchyma. RESULTS: Total particles, silica, clay, and quartz also increase in concentration with increased age at death, although the trends are not statistically significant. Quartz concentration has a statistically significant correlation with the silicosis severity score (r = +0.45, p < 0.001), with the geometric mean concentration increasing from 2.24 micrograms/mg in the group having silicosis severity score less than 1 to 4.80 micrograms/mg in group with highest score. Quartz concentration is the only significant explanatory variable of the silicosis severity with a regression coefficient of +0.41 (p < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Among several dust exposure variables extracted from the work history of the miners, the calendar year of first exposure was the primary significant determinant of lung retained total particles, silica, and clay minerals, except for quartz. A statistically significant linear relationship between lung quartz concentration and silicosis severity in the gold miners was observed (p < 0.001). Among the several types of lung particles detected, quartz was the only significant determinant of the silicosis severity in the gold miners in this study and vice versa, although it explained only 20% of the variation in the severity. This study suggested no significant linear relationship between the duration of dust exposure and the lung burden of any particle types in the gold miners.
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