Lung cancer mortality and airways obstruction among metal miners exposed to silica and low levels of radon daughters

Am J Ind Med. 1994 Apr;25(4):489-506. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700250404.


Starting from a cross-sectional survey in 1973, the mortality of two cohorts of Sardinian metal miners was followed through December 31, 1988. In mine A, the quartz concentration in respirable dust ranged between 0.2% and 2.0% and the exposure to radon daughters averaged 0.13 working level (WL), with the highest estimated cumulative exposure around 80-120 WLM. In mine B, the silica content was much higher (6.5-29%), but exposure to radon daughters was significantly lower than in mine A. More than 98% of the overall work force in 1973 (1,741 miners) entered the cohort, providing 25,842.5 person-years. Smoking, occupational history, chest radiographs, and lung function tests were available for the cohort members at admission. Mortality for all causes was slightly lower than expected. A significant excess for nonmalignant chronic respiratory diseases was noticed in both mines. Twenty-four subjects died of lung cancer, 17 from mine A (SMR: 128; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 75-205) and 7 from mine B (SMR: 85; 95% CI: 34-175). The SMR for lung cancer was highest among the underground workers from mine A (SMR: 148; 95% CI: 74-265), with a significant upward trend by duration of employment in underground jobs. Mine B underground miners showed lung cancer SMRs close to 100 without a significant trend by duration of employment. Among underground miners with spirometric airways obstruction in 1973, those from mine A showed the highest risk (SMR: 316; 95% CI: 116-687). The relationship did not change after adjusting for age and smoking. Based on the present findings, crystalline silica per se does not appear to affect lung cancer mortality. A slight association between lung cancer mortality and exposure to radon daughters, though within relatively low levels, may be considered for underground miners from mine A. Impaired pulmonary function may be an independent predictor of lung cancer and an important risk factor enhancing the residence time of inhaled carcinogens, i.e., alpha particles or PAHs, by impairing their bronchial and alveolar clearance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cause of Death
  • Cohort Studies
  • Copper
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Lung / radiation effects*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / mortality*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Male
  • Metals*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mining*
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / mortality*
  • Occupational Diseases / mortality*
  • Radon Daughters / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Silicon Dioxide / adverse effects*
  • Silicosis / mortality*
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / mortality
  • Zinc


  • Metals
  • Radon Daughters
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Copper
  • Zinc