Pulmonary function and respiratory health of rural farmers and artisanal and small scale gold miners in Ghana

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Abstract

The recent increase in artisanal and small scale gold mining (ASGM) worldwide has elicited a number of public health concerns for miners and mining communities, including respiratory health. The two primary inhalational exposures of concern are crystalline silica expected to be present in gold ore and smoke from biomass fuels used in cooking. Here, measurements of pulmonary function and of respiratory symptoms were performed in an ASGM community, Kejetia, and a comparison agricultural community, Gorogo, in the Upper East Region of Ghana in May-July 2011. Of 172 participants, 159 performed spirometry, yielding 119 and 95 valid measurements for FEV1 and FVC, respectively. Percent predicted FEV1, FVC and FEV1/FVC, which were lower than predicted for a healthy population, were not significantly different between Kejetia and Gorogo or by mining status in Kejetia. Abnormal lung function was elevated for predicted FEV1 (15.0%) and FEV1/FVC (22.0%) beyond an expected five percent in healthy populations. This first examination of pulmonary function in an ASGM community in Ghana (and possibly worldwide) did not show an obvious relationship between mining involvement and lung function abnormality, but did show associations between the use of biomass fuels, adverse respiratory symptoms, and reduced pulmonary function in both populations. A number of factors including age differences between the populations and the required lag time after silica exposure for the onset of respiratory disease may have affected results. Additional research is needed with larger sample sizes and with more detailed questionnaires to further assess the impact of multiple stressors on respiratory health in ASGM communities.

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