Does aluminum smelting cause lung disease?

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1989 Apr;139(4):1042-57. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/139.4.1042.


The evidence concerning a relationship between work in the aluminum industry and lung disease has been reviewed using epidemiologic criteria. Adequate data on environmental exposure are rarely presented. Case series on aluminum potroom workers over the past 50 years have identified an asthmalike syndrome that appears to be due to an irritant rather than an allergic mechanism. These studies have been supported by evidence of within shift variability of measures of lung function. However, to date, there is inadequate evidence to resolve the question of whether potroom exposure initiates asthma or merely precipitates asthmalike symptoms in a predisposed individual. Cross-sectional studies have demonstrated evidence of reduced lung function, consistent with chronic airflow limitation. In exposed aluminum smelter workers compared to unexposed control subjects. Cigarette smoking, the major potential confounding variable, has been measured and accounted for in multivariate analyses. To date, evidence is lacking from longitudinal studies about the development of disabling chronic obstructive lung disease. Exposure to coal tar pitch volatiles in the production and consumption of anodes has biologic plausibility for an association of lung cancer with work in an aluminum smelter. Although retrospective mortality studies have failed to account for the probable high prevalence of smoking in blue collar workers, the relative risk of lung cancer is very low if present at all. Pulmonary fibrosis has not been shown to be a significant problem in aluminum smelter workers. Future research in the aluminum industry needs to concentrate on longitudinal studies, preferably with an inception cohort for the investigation of potroom asthma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum*
  • Asthma / chemically induced*
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Metallurgy*
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced*
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Aluminum