Welding fume exposure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in welders

D-H Koh, J-I Kim, K-H Kim, S-W Yoo
Occupational Medicine 2015, 65 (1): 72-7

BACKGROUND: Occupational exposure is estimated to contribute 15% to the burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Welding fumes are suspected to accelerate the decline of lung function and development of COPD.

AIMS: To examine the relationship between welding fume exposure and COPD in Korean shipyard welders.

METHODS: The study involved a group of male welders working at two shipyards who underwent an annual health examination in 2010. Subjects completed a questionnaire about smoking habits and occupational history and a pulmonary function test (PFT) was carried out with strict quality control measures. Welding fume exposure concentrations were estimated using 884 measurements taken between 2002 and 2009 in one of the shipyards. Multiple linear and logistic regression was employed to evaluate the association between cumulative fume exposure and lung function parameters, controlling for age, height and cigarette smoking.

RESULTS: Two hundred and forty subjects participated, with a mean age of 48 and mean work duration of 15 years. The mean cumulative fume exposure was 7.7mg/m(3). The prevalence of COPD was 15%. FEV1 and FVC showed non-significant negative correlations with cumulative fume exposure. Odds ratios of COPD were significantly elevated for the middle (3.9; 95% CI 1.4-13.3) and high exposure groups (3.8; 95% CI 1.03-16.2) compared with the low fume exposure group.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings support an association between welding fume exposure and increased risk of COPD. Further prospective study is needed to investigate whether this is a causal relationship.

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