1715c Epidemiological evaluation of exposure-response relationships for crystalline silica and risk of silicosis and lung cancer: implications for regulation and prevention


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Abstract

Effects of crystalline silica on the respiratory tract have been demonstrated in a large number of epidemiological studies. Crystalline silica is a known occupational carcinogen with the lung as main target organ and can cause silicosis as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While these hazards are well characterised, there is an ongoing debate on the quantitative exposure-response relationships for crystalline silica and these respiratory endpoints.Both for regulative and preventive purposes, the demonstration of an exposure threshold which almost excludes any human health risk would be highly desirable. Another option would be the derivation of an exposure-risk relationship associating a given exposure level with a specific lifetime risk, e.g. for lung cancer. However, chronic inflammation – believed to be a threshold effect – is currently considered as the most likely mechanism relevant for both the development of silicosis and lung cancer, while it is unclear whether silica-induced lung cancer requires the presence of silicosis.This presentation will review the current epidemiological evidence for the derivation of a threshold with respect to the development of lung cancer and silicosis focusing on high-quality studies with good quantitative long-term exposure data. Although minor or acute inflammatory effects might occur before the detection of silicosis, low-grade silicosis and lung cancer are the only chronic effects which could so far be assessed with reasonable confidence in epidemiological studies.The available data would support threshold limit values for occupational exposure to crystalline silica in the range of 50 to 100 µg/m3 which are already in place in several countries.

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