Objectives: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the health consequences of employment in the lead-smelting industry.
Methods: A mortality study of 1388 workers and laborers in production and maintenance departments was conducted in an Italian lead-smelting plant. The vital status of cohort members was determined from 1950 to 1992. Standardized mortality ratios were calculated for specific causes of death on the basis of national and regional reference rates. The relative risk for selected causes of death was also modeled as a function of age, calendar period, latency, and duration of employment with Poisson regression analysis.
Results: A significant 4.5-fold excess mortality from pneumoconiosis and other diseases of the respiratory system was observed, but the risk of pneumoconiosis did not show a significant trend by duration of employment. Mortality from all cancers, stomach cancer, and lung cancer was lower than expected. The standardized mortality ratios for genitourinary diseases and kidney cancer were not significantly elevated, but the Poisson regression analysis showed that both risks increased significantly by duration of employment.
Conclusions: These findings provide limited evidence that long-term employment in lead-smelting plants increases the risk of genitourinary diseases and kidney cancer. The observed increase in mortality from pneumoconiosis and other diseases of the respiratory system was more likely related to silica exposure in other workplaces.