To investigate the early pattern of longitudinal change in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) among new Chinese coal miners, and the relation between coal mine dust exposure and the decline of lung function. The early pattern of lung function changes in 317 newly hired Chinese underground coal miners was compared to 132 referents. This three year prospective cohort study involved a pre-employment and 15 follow up health surveys, including a questionnaire and spirometry tests. Twice a month, total and respirable dust area sampling was done. The authors used a two stage analysis and a linear mixed effects model approach to analyse the longitudinal spirometry data, and to investigate the changes in FEV1 over time, controlling for age, height, pack years of smoking, mean respirable dust concentration, the room temperature during testing, and the groupxtime interaction terms. FEV1 change over time in new miners is non-linear. New miners experience initial rapid FEV1 declines, primarily during the first year of mining, little change during the second year, and partial recovery during the third year. Both linear and quadratic time trends in FEV1 change are highly significant. Smoking miners lost more FEV1 than non-smokers. Referents, all age less than 20 years, showed continued lung growth, whereas the miners who were under age 20 exhibited a decline in FEV1. Dust and smoking affect lung function in young, newly hired Chinese coal miners. FEV1 change over the first three years of employment is non-linear. The findings have implications for both methods and interpretation of medical screening in coal mining and other dusty work: during the first several years of employment more frequent testing may be desirable, and caution is required in interpreting early FEV1 declines.
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