The Effects of Pleural Plaques on Longitudinal Lung Function in Vermiculite Miners of Libby, Montana


BACKGROUND: This study was conducted to assess associations of pleural plaques (PP) and longitudinal lung function in vermiculite miners of Libby, Montana who are occupationally exposed to asbestos. High-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) was used to identify asbestos-related findings in former Libby vermiculite miners. We investigated annual lung function decline in miners with PP only and compared them to miners with normal HRCT findings. MATERIALS AND METHODS: HRCTs from 128 miners were categorized into the following 4 diagnostic groups: (1) normal computed tomography scan (n = 9); (2) PP only (n = 72); (3) PP and interstitial fibrosis (n = 26) and (4) additional HRCT abnormalities (n = 21) such as rounded atelectasis, diffuse pleural thickening, pleural effusions or pulmonary nodules or tumor >1cm in diameter. Random intercept and slope linear mixed-effect regression models identified differences in lung function decline between miners with asbestos-associated outcomes and those with normal HRCT. Models were adjusted for follow-up time, body mass index, smoking status, latent exposure period and employment years. Interactions for smoking status with age and smoking status with pleural plaque severity were examined. RESULTS: Miners with PP only did not have an accelerated decline in lung function between 40 and 80 years. Miners with PP and additional HRCT abnormalities displayed significantly accelerated declines in forced expiratory volume in 1 second and diffusing capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide (P = 0.05 and P < 0.01, respectively). Plaque severity did not affect lung function decline. However, smokers with extensive plaques displayed accelerated loss in diffusing capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide and forced expiratory volume in 1 second when compared to nonsmoking miners with mild plaque formation. CONCLUSIONS: PP alone did not significantly affect lung function decline in vermiculite miners of Libby, Montana.

Publication Title

The American journal of the medical sciences