Studies of dose-response relationships between respiratory outcomes at autopsy and coal dust exposure are limited. The Pathology Automation System (PATHAUT) database of South African miners, is one of the largest autopsy databases of occupational lung disease. This study described the prevalence of respiratory outcomes among South African coal miners at autopsy, and determined whether dose response relationships existed between emphysema and exposure.
Autopsies conducted from 1975 to 1997 on coal miners with exclusive coal mining exposure and having exposure duration information (n = 3,167) were analyzed from PATHAUT. Logistic regression was used to determine relationships between exposure and outcomes, controlling for race, smoking and age on a subset for whom smoking history was available (n = 725).
The mean duration of exposure was 11.0 years. Most were black miners (75.3%) with significant differences in the mean ages of black and white miners (37.9 and 55.3 years, respectively). Only 22.9% of cases had information on smoking. The prevalence of silicosis, tuberculosis (TB), coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), and moderate and marked emphysema were 10.7%, 5.2%, 7.3%, and 6.4%, respectively. All diseases, except TB, were associated with exposure duration. Black miners had 8.3 and 1.2 fold greater risks for TB and CWP, respectively, than white miners. White miners had an increased risk of 1.4 and 5.4 for silicosis and moderate to marked emphysema, respectively. In models unadjusted for age, and including smoking, moderate to marked emphysema was strongly associated with exposure duration (OR = 3.4; 95% CI = 1.9-5.9 for highest tercile of exposure duration). Exposure-related risk estimates were reduced when age was introduced into the model. However, age and duration of exposure were highly correlated, (r = 0.68) suggesting a dilution of the exposure effect by age.
There were significant dose related associations of disease, including emphysema, with coal dust exposure.