Although dolomite is classified as a relatively non-toxic, nuisance dust, little information exists as to its potential to produce respiratory disorders following occupational exposure. The purpose of this study was, therefore, to evaluate the possible effects, if any, of heavy inhalation exposure to this chemical on the prevalence of respiratory symptoms, functional impairments and radiographic abnormalities of the lungs.
The study population consisted of a group of 39 exposed subjects engaged in digging and excavating activities that were in operation for building a local dam, as well as 40 healthy non-exposed employees that served as the referent group. Subjects were interviewed and respiratory symptoms questionnaires, as suggested by the American Thoracic Society (ATS), were completed for them. Thereafter, they underwent chest X-ray and lung function tests. Additionally, using routine gravimetric techniques, personal dust monitoring for airborne inhalable and respirable dust was carried out at different dusty work sites. Finally to determine the chemical composition of the dust, it was analyzed by X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technique.
XRF revealed that the major component (50.52%) of the dust was calcium magnesium carbonate, dolomite. Additionally, levels of exposure to inhalable and respirable dust were estimated to be 51.7±24.31 and 23.0±18.11mg/m3, respectively. Statistical analysis of the data showed that symptoms such as regular cough, phlegm, wheezing, productive cough and shortness of breath were significantly (p<0.05) more prevalent among exposed workers. Similarly, the ratio of FEV1/FVC in exposed subjects was significantly different from that of non-exposed individuals. In contrast, no significant abnormalities were observed in the chest radiographs of both groups.
In conclusion, while these data cast doubt on the notion that dolomite is a harmless chemical, they provide evidence in favour of the proposition that exposure to high atmospheric concentrations of this compound is likely to be associated with respiratory symptoms.