Comparability of different methods of retrospective exposure assessment of metals in manufacturing industries

Am J Ind Med. 1997 Jan;31(1):36-43. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0274(199701)31:1<36::aid-ajim6>;2-v.


Many occupational case-control studies have relied on either self-report or exposure assessment based on job titles linked to a job exposure matrix (JEM) as opposed to the generally considered more accurate, but labor intensive, method of expert review of job histories. Our study examined the comparability of these different methods in assessing occupational exposure to the metals copper (Cu), lead (Pb), and iron (Fe) in manufacturing industries. Subjects were older people from a case-control study of a neurologic disease, and consisted of 188 individuals (72% male, 85% white) who had worked an average of 22.4 years in the manufacturing industry. An industrial hygienist review (IHR) of occupational history data from a comprehensive questionnaire was used as the reference method. The percent agreement (%A), sensitivity (SE), and specificity (SP) for direct self-report of metal exposures were: Cu, %A = 94.6, SE = 83.6, SP = 96.1; Pb, %A = 91.9, SE = 72.5, SP = 93.5; and Fe, %A = 82.7, SE = 64.5, SP = 88.1. Using the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) JEM, we analyzed the jobs of 115 of the 188 study subjects who had all their jobs listed in the JEM. Exposure assessment based on the NIOSH JEM compared with the IHR resulted in greater misclassification relative to direct self-report: Cu, %A = 81.5, SE = 21.2, SP = 89.2; Pb, %A = 86.0, SE = 0.0, SP = 92.6; and Fe, %A = 69.2, SE = 15.5, SP = 86.4. For all three study metals, combining the information from both direct self-report and the JEM did not improve upon the results compared with direct self-report alone. Due to the complex nature of metal exposure assessment, we suggest using an expert review of job histories whenever possible to minimize potential misclassification.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Case-Control Studies*
  • Copper
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Research Design
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Iron