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Chest. 1995 Sep;108(3):642-6.

Lung health in sawmill workers exposed to pine and spruce.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


Workers exposed to a variety of wood dusts have been shown to exhibit occupational asthma, lung function deficits, and elevated levels of respiratory symptoms. Despite the popularity of pine and spruce, the health effects of exposures to these woods have not been extensively investigated. A study was undertaken to investigate the respiratory health of a group of sawmill workers processing pine and spruce (n = 94). Data collection included a respiratory symptom questionnaire, spirometry, and allergy skin testing. The sawmill workers were compared with a group of oil field workers from the same geographic area who underwent the same study protocol (n = 165). The results showed that the sawmill workers had significantly lower average values for FEV1 and FEV1/FVC (%), adjusted for age, height, and smoking. The largest differences were for current smokers. Significantly elevated age and smoking-adjusted odds ratios (OR) were detected for shortness of breath (2.83; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.47 to 5.46) and wheeze with chest tightness (2.58; 95% CI, 1.18 to 5.62). Nonsignificant elevations were also seen for usual cough (1.47; 95% CI, 0.68 to 3.16), usual phlegm (1.94; 95% CI, 0.98 to 3.87), shortness of breath with exercise (1.45; 95% CI, 0.66 to 3.20), chest tightness (1.43; 95% CI, 0.80 to 2.57), and attacks of wheeze (1.70; 95% CI, 0.79 to 3.68). Sawmill workers were 2.5 times as likely as oil field workers to report current asthma (95% CI, 0.76 to 8.32). Workers employed more than 3 years showed significantly more asthma (OR = 3.67; 95% CI, 1.00 to 13.5) and bronchitis (OR = 2.14; 95% CI, 1.02 to 4.52). Sawmill workers were only 43% as likely to report a history of hay fever (95% CI, 0.20 to 0.94). These health effects were noted despite an average concentration of respirable dust of 1.35 mg/m3 (range, 0.1 to 2.2 mg/m3). These levels are below the present occupational standard.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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