Radiographic and spirometric findings in diatomaceous earth workers

Philip Harber, James Dahlgren, William Bunn, James Lockey, Gerald Chase

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Diatomaceous earth is a noncrystalline form of silica; in processing, calcining leads to formation of cristobalite, a form of crystalline silica. Four hundred ninety-two currently employed diatomaceous earth workers in a large mine and processing facility had chest radiographs performed and interpreted by the International Labour Office (ILO) system. Two hundred sixty-seven subjects underwent spirometry testing. Exposure indices for total dust (largely diatomaceous earth) and cristobalite were reconstructed for each individual based upon personnel records. Analysis demonstrated the following prevalences of radiographic findings: 5 % had ILO scores ≤ 1/0, and 25 % had scores of 0/1 or higher. Regression analyses showed that there was a relationship between both total cristobalite exposure and total dust (largely diatomaceous earth) exposure and the ILO score. Radiographic patterns are not typical of those of classic silicosis. Linear regression analyses for forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), forced vital capacity (FVC), and FEV1/FVC ratio did not demonstrate a relationship between cumulative exposure and lung function. Such analyses were performed using all subjects and stratified by smoking status. There were differences in spirometric data according to radiographic ILO category, but the results were inconsistent and did not permit determining if physiologic changes are associated with radiographic change or if this is due to confounding. Overall, the study suggests that diatomaceous earth pneumoconiosis (radiographically defined) is an entity distinct from silicosis. Recent exposure levels may produce radiographic abnormalities but do not lead to demonstrable physiologic effect. The prevalence of the disorder has diminished markedly in response to modern dust control measures. Ongoing medical surveillance is recommended in workers with potential exposure to significant quantity of material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-28
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of occupational and environmental medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Radiographic and spirometric findings in diatomaceous earth workers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this