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To investigate the risk of cancer and non-neoplastic respiratory diseases among workers who manufacture carbon electrodes, as this industry entails exposure to mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.A historical cohort study was carried out of 1006 male workers employed for at least 1 year between 1945 and 1971 in a carbon (graphite) electrode production plant in central Italy, who were followed up for mortality between 1955 and 1996. The ratio of observed to expected deaths (standardised mortality ratios, SMRs) was computed from both national and (for the period 1964-96) regional age and period specific mortalities. A multivariate Poisson regression analysis was performed to investigate the relative risk (RR) of death according to duration of employment and time since first employment in the factory.A total of 424 workers had died, 538 were still alive, and 44 were lost to follow up. Mortalities from all causes, all cancers, and respiratory tract cancer were in line with the regional figure. An excess was found over the expected deaths from skin cancer including melanoma (SMR 3.16, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 0.65 to 9.23) and from non-neoplastic respiratory diseases (SMR 1.58, 95% CI 1.16 to 2.11). Poisson regression analysis including age as a covariate showed an increased risk of dying from gastric cancer with increasing duration of employment, and an increase in the RR of dying from lung cancer and from non-neoplastic respiratory diseases with increasing time since first employment, although the linear trend was not significant.This study supports previous findings that working in the carbon electrode manufacturing industry may not increase the risk of dying from respiratory cancer. However, a possible association with non-malignant respiratory diseases cannot be excluded.