Sensitivity Analyses of Exposure Estimates from a Quantitative Job-exposure Matrix (SYN-JEM) for Use in Community-based Studies

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Objectives: We describe the elaboration and sensitivity analyses of a quantitative job-exposure matrix (SYN-JEM) for respirable crystalline silica (RCS). The aim was to gain insight into the robustness of the SYN-JEM RCS estimates based on critical decisions taken in the elaboration process.

Methods: SYN-JEM for RCS exposure consists of three axes (job, region, and year) based on estimates derived from a previously developed statistical model. To elaborate SYN-JEM, several decisions were taken: i.e. the application of (i) a single time trend; (ii) region-specific adjustments in RCS exposure; and (iii) a prior job-specific exposure level (by the semi-quantitative DOM-JEM), with an override of 0 mg/m3 for jobs a priori defined as non-exposed. Furthermore, we assumed that exposure levels reached a ceiling in 1960 and remained constant prior to this date. We applied SYN-JEM to the occupational histories of subjects from a large international pooled community-based case–control study. Cumulative exposure levels derived with SYN-JEM were compared with those from alternative models, described by Pearson correlation (Rp) and differences in unit of exposure (mg/m3-year). Alternative models concerned changes in application of job- and region-specific estimates and exposure ceiling, and omitting the a priori exposure ranking.

Results: Cumulative exposure levels for the study subjects ranged from 0.01 to 60 mg/m3-years, with a median of 1.76 mg/m3-years. Exposure levels derived from SYN-JEM and alternative models were overall highly correlated (Rp > 0.90), although somewhat lower when omitting the region estimate (Rp = 0.80) or not taking into account the assigned semi-quantitative exposure level (Rp = 0.65). Modification of the time trend (i.e. exposure ceiling at 1950 or 1970, or assuming a decline before 1960) caused the largest changes in absolute exposure levels (26–33% difference), but without changing the relative ranking (Rp = 0.99).

Conclusions: Exposure estimates derived from SYN-JEM appeared to be plausible compared with (historical) levels described in the literature. Decisions taken in the development of SYN-JEM did not critically change the cumulative exposure levels. The influence of region-specific estimates needs to be explored in future risk analyses.

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