Exposure to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes: assessment by a single survey item compared to a detailed exposure battery and a job exposure matrix

Am J Ind Med. 2005 Aug;48(2):110-7. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20187.


Background: Occupational exposure assessment often relies upon subject report. We examined the characteristics of self-reported exposure in respondents' longest held job to vapors, gas, dust, or fumes (VGDF) compared to other measures of exposure risk.

Methods: We analyzed data from 1,876 respondents from a national US population-based telephone survey designed to estimate the association between occupational factors and chronic disease of the airways. We tested a single VGDF item against responses to a 16-item battery assessing specific inhalation exposures and against a job exposure matrix (JEM). We analyzed all of these measures for their association with adult-onset asthma after excluding subjects with COPD or asthma with onset before age 18.

Results: VDGF (single item) was reported by 744 (40%) subjects; any of the 16 exposures by 899 (48%); and an intermediate or high exposure likelihood job by JEM was assigned to 682 (36%). The sensitivity of the VGDF item measured against the 16-item battery was 69%; the specificity was 88%; (classification agreement kappa=0.58); against the JEM classification the sensitivity was 64% and specificity 74% (kappa=0.37). The relative odds (OR) for adult-onset asthma associated with various measures of exposure were: VGDF, 1.7 (95% Confidence Interval [CI] 1.0-2.8; P=0.04); any of the 16 exposures, 1.6 (95% CI 1.0-2.7; P=0.06), and intermediate or high by JEM, 1.2 (0.7-2.1; P>0.50).

Conclusions: A single VGDF survey item appears to delineate exposure risk at least as well as a multiple-item battery assessing such exposures; it has modest agreement with a JEM-based exposure categorization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Bias
  • Dust / analysis
  • Female
  • Gases / analysis
  • Gases / toxicity
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Occupations / classification
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Self Disclosure
  • United States


  • Dust
  • Gases