To evaluate pulmonary function and respiratory symptoms in workers engaged in the early manufacturing processes of tea and to identify the associated factors, we conducted a study in a tea production area in Taiwan.
We recruited tea workers who engaged in the early manufacturing process in the Mountain Ali area in Taiwan and a comparison group of local office workers who were matched for age, gender, and smoking habits. We performed questionnaire interviews, pulmonary function tests, skin prick tests, and measurement of specific IgE for tea on the participants and assessed tea dust exposures in the tea factories.
The 91 participating tea workers had higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms than the comparison group (32 participants). Among tea workers, ball-rolling workers had the highest prevalence of symptoms and the highest exposures of inhalable dusts. At baseline, tea workers had similar pulmonary functions as the comparison group, but compared to the other tea workers ball-rolling workers had a lower ratio of the 1-second forced expiratory volume to forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) and a lower maximal mid-expiratory flow rate expressed as% of the predicted value--MMF (%pred). A total of 58 tea workers participated in the on-site investigation and the cross-shift lung function measurements. We found ball-rolling yielded the highest inhalable dust level, panning yielded the highest respirable dust level, and withering yielded the lowest levels of both dusts. Ball-rolling also yielded the highest coarse fraction (defined as inhalable dusts minus respirable dusts), which represented exposures from nose to tracheobronchial tract. During the shift, we observed significant declines in pulmonary function, especially in ball-rolling workers. Multiple regressions showed that age, height, work tasks, coarse fraction, and number of months working in tea manufacturing each year were independent predictors of certain pulmonary function parameters in tea workers.
Tea workers engaged in early manufacturing processes of tea have higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms and pulmonary function impairment, which might be related to tea dust exposures, especially the coarse fraction.
Keywords: Tea, Occupational exposure, Pulmonary function tests, Signs and symptoms, Respiratory