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Chest. 1983 May;83(5):780-3.

Human exposure to heavy metals. Rare earth pneumoconiosis in occupational workers.


A male subject exposed for many years to rare earth (RE)-containing fumes and dusts emitted from carbon arc lamps in photoengraving laboratories was investigated to rule out RE pneumoconiosis. While chest x-ray films showed a severe pulmonary fibrosis, clinical analysis showed obvious high RE concentrations in the pulmonary and lymph node biopsy specimens compared with the corresponding tissues of 11 unexposed subjects. In addition to other elements, levels of thorium (Th), which is generally present as an impurity of RE compounds, were also determined to estimate the radiation dose which may be involved in inducing pneumoconiosis. The results show that the levels of Th are more than two orders of magnitude lower than the maximum permissible concentration for occupational exposure to natural 232Th, suggesting that the long-term accumulation of RE in the lungs played a role in the pathogenesis of the observed pulmonary fibrosis of the worker.

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