Methods were developed to assess exposure to a wide variety of chemicals for nearly 80,000 workers involved in manufacturing aircraft since 1928. The facilities, now closed, consisted of four major plants, over 200 buildings, and a changing workforce during 60 years of operation. To access chemical exposures by specific jobs and calendar years, we reviewed complete work histories, examined detailed job descriptions available going back to 1940, interviewed long-term employees, conducted walk-through visits of aircraft manufacturing plants, reviewed comprehensive environmental assessment reports and industrial hygiene surveys on the facilities, and built on experience gained in previous studies of the aircraft industry. Using computer-based imaging systems, we examined and evaluated the complete work histories found on service record cards for the cohort and abstracted detailed information on all jobs held among the factory workers who had been employed for at least one year. Jobs were classified into one of three exposure categories related to the use of specific chemicals: routine, intermittent, and none, and these classifications were subsequently used in the epidemiological analyses. The approach to exposure assessment began with the most general categorization of employees (i.e., all workers) and then became progressively more specific, that is, factor workers, job families (similar activities), job titles, and jobs with chemical usage (exposure potential). Because exposure surveys were limited or absent during the early years of plant operations, we did not assign quantitative measures of exposure to individual job activities. Instead, we used as our exposure metric, the length of time spent in jobs with potential exposure to the chemical. Important occupational exposures included chromate-containing compounds such as used in paint primers, trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene used as vapor-state degreasing solvents, and a broad range of other solvents.
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