Growing evidence suggests exposure to chemicals and industrial pollutants may increase risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Here we review research on SLE associations with occupational and industrial exposures, primarily drawing on studies in human populations and summarizing epidemiologic research published in the past decade. The association of occupational silica exposure with SLE is well established, but key questions remain, including the required dose and susceptibility factors, and SLE risk due to other silicate exposures. Research on SLE and other exposures is less well developed, though several potential associations merit further consideration because of the consistency of preliminary human findings, experimental animal research, and biologic plausibility. These include pesticides and solvents, for which experimental findings also support investigation of specific agents, including organochlorines and trichloroethylene. Experimental findings and biologic plausibility suggest research on SLE and occupational exposure to hydrocarbons (i.e. mineral oils) is warranted, especially given the widespread exposures in the population. Experimental and limited human findings support further investigation of SLE related to mercury exposure, especially in dental occupations. Research on environmental risk factors in risk-enriched cohorts (family-based) is recommended, as is further investigation of exposures in relation to intermediate markers of effect (e.g. antinuclear antibodies), clinical features (e.g. nephritis), and outcomes.
Keywords: Systemic lupus erythematosus; environmental risk factors; epidemiology; occupational exposures; pesticides; silica.