Respiratory symptoms and lung function abnormalities among machine operators in automobile production

Am J Ind Med. 1997 Apr;31(4):403-13. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1097-0274(199704)31:4<403::aid-ajim5>;2-w.


This cross-sectional study was designed to assess differences in prevalence of respiratory symptoms and lung function between machine operators exposed to semisynthetic or soluble metal-working fluids (MWFs) and unexposed assemblers and to assess exposure-response relationships with MWF type, total aerosol, endotoxin, culturable bacteria and fungi. We evaluated 183 machine operators and 66 assemblers from one large automobile transmission plant using questionnaires, spirometry data, and cross-shift assessment of both lung function and respiratory symptoms. We found that airborne exposures to total aerosol, endotoxin, culturable bacteria and fungi were higher in machine operations than in the assembly area. There was a correlation between bulk and airborne culturable bacteria, but not between bulk and airborne culturable fungi. Machine operators had significantly more usual cough, usual phlegm, work-related chest tightness and post-shift symptoms of chest tightness, throat irritation, and cough compared with assemblers. We found exposure-response relationships between respiratory symptoms and total aerosol, as well as culturable fungi and bacteria. Associations with endotoxin were not strong or consistent, possibly because airborne levels were generally low. Cross-shift lung function decrements did not differ between machine operators and assemblers and there were no associations with MWF or specific exposures. The finding of respiratory symptoms at low levels of exposure in this study suggests the need to re-assess total aerosol thresholds. Associations between airborne fungal exposures and respiratory symptoms need further study to characterize sources of exposure other than MWF in machining operations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Microbiology*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Automobiles*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Metals / adverse effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Metals