We studied 233 male workers employed in two brick-manufacturing plants and 149 matched control workers. The mean age of the brick workers was 35 years, with a mean duration of employment in this industry of 16 years. The prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms as well as acute symptoms during the work shift were recorded. Lung function was measured on Monday during the work shift by recording maximum expiratory flow-volume (MEFV) curves, from which the forced vital capacity (FVC), the one-second forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and flow rates at 50% and the last 75% of the FVC (FEF50, FEF75) were measured. The results of periodic chest roentgenograms were reviewed. There was a significantly higher prevalence of chronic cough (31.8%), chronic phlegm (26.2%), and chest tightness (24.0%) in exposed workers, compared with control workers (20.1%; 18.1%; 0%) (P < 0.05). This increased symptom frequency was also documented among nonsmokers studied by age and by length of employment, suggesting a work-related effect. Among work shift-related symptoms, high prevalences were noted for upper respiratory tract symptoms (eg, dry throat, eye irritation, throat irritation). The measured FVC and FEV1 were significantly lower than predicted for brick workers and suggested a restrictive pattern. The mean FVC (as a percent of predicted) was 78.1% and FEV1 was 88.1%. The FEF50 and FEF25 were not significantly decreased. A multiple regression analysis with age, exposure, and smoking as predictors and lung function parameters as response variables showed a significant effect between exposure and FVC. Significant chest roentgenographic abnormalities were not documented. These findings of a restrictive lung function pattern in brick workers with normal chest roentgenograms may suggest early interstitial disease. Additionally, a bronchitic component, as suggested by the respiratory symptoms, may also be present.
From the Andrija Stampar School of Public Health, Zagreb, Croatia (Dr Zuskin, Dr Mustajbegovic, Dr Kern, Mr Doko-Jelinic, Dr Godnic-Cvar); and The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY (Dr Schachter).
Address correspondence to: E. Neil Schachter, MD, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY 10029-6574.