Recent results from a study of thorium lung burdens and health effects among miners in China.
ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to obtain more information about health effects among the dust-exposed male miners of Bayun Obo Rare-Earth and Iron Mine, China. From 2,390 male miners from the seven dust-generating workshops of the mine, 136 dust-exposed miners were randomly selected for study. Of these, 64 men were from the high-dust-generating workshop and 72 from the lower-dust-generating workshops; the latter group was used as an internal control. Physical measurements and medical examinations were carried out on each of these 136 men. The average measured thorium lung burden for the high-dust-exposure miners was significantly greater than that for the group of lower-exposure miners, and the incidence of severe breathlessness and pneumoconiosis of stage 0(+) was also significantly raised in the high-exposure group relative to the low-exposure group. An epidemiological study of lung cancer mortality among all the miners and staff of this mine was also carried out. This showed significantly raised levels of lung cancer mortality in both exposed miners and unexposed workers when compared with the Chinese population, and the level in exposed miners was significantly higher than that in unexposed men. The general high rate of lung cancer mortality in the workers of the mine is attributed to high levels of cigarette smoking, and the raised rate in the exposed miners relative to the unexposed workers to inhalation of silica- and thorium-bearing dusts and thoron progeny.