BACKGROUND A previously published cohort study of some 2670 employees of the North American sand industry, followed through 1994, provided strong evidence of a causal relationship between quartz exposure and death from both silicosis and lung cancer, after allowance for cigarette smoking and in the absence of known occupational carcinogens. Unexpectedly, a significant excess mortality from chronic non-malignant renal disease [observed 16; expected 7.6; standardized mortality ratio (SMR) 212] was also found, whereas deaths from renal cancer at this stage were close to expectation (observed 6; expected 5.2). OBJECTIVES Our primary aim was to discover whether death from chronic renal disease was related to the estimated intensity of crystalline silica exposure. A further aim was to determine whether or not our previous estimates of lung cancer and silicosis risk were confirmed by mortality in the cohort 6 years later. METHODS With help from the US National Death Index, surviving members of the cohort, with the exception of employees of a small plant in Canada, were traced through 2000. The cause of death was determined for all who had died, for comparison against National and State mortality rates. Nested case-referent analyses were then undertaken, as previously, of deaths from lung cancer and silicosis, plus end-stage renal disease and kidney cancer, in relation to quantitative re-estimates of quartz exposure. RESULTS The total number of deaths through 1994 was 990; there were 231 additional deaths during the period 1995-2000. The SMRs were significantly higher in the later than the earlier period, mainly due to a relative increase in heart disease and external causes. The updated odds ratios for lung cancer and silicosis were almost identical to those published previously, with lung cancer risk again related to average silica concentration and cumulative exposure, but not to length of employment. In contrast, risks of neither end-stage renal disease nor renal cancer were related to cumulative exposure, although now based on 19 cases (SMR 239), and 10 cases (SMR 202), respectively, in fact, opposite trends were apparent for both diseases. However, because of the small numbers there was only limited power to assess the statistical significance of these trends or of any separate relationship with the duration or intensity of exposure. CONCLUSIONS Our findings support a causal relationship between lung cancer and quartz exposure after allowance for cigarette smoking, in the absence of other known carcinogens, but failed to find similar evidence to explain the excess mortality from either chronic renal disease or kidney cancer.
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