Estimating Historical Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica in the Mining Industry in Ontario, Canada Using a Newly Developed Exposure Database

Blagrove-Hall N, Berriault C, Jardine KJ, Demers PA, Arrandale VH. Annals of Work Exposures and Health. 2021 Jun;65(9):1040-1049.

Objectives: To use the recently developed Ontario Mining Exposure Database (OMED) to describe historical silica exposure in the Ontario metal mining industry and identify predictors of historical silica exposure.

Methods: Personal respirable crystalline silica (RCS) data for metal mines were extracted from OMED and included both individual and summary measures, where multiple exposure measurements (n > 1) were aggregated and entered as a single exposure value (n = 1). Data were stratified by sample location (underground/surface) for analysis. Monte Carlo simulation was used to simulate individual measures from the summary measures. A fixed effects multiple linear regression model was used to assess the effects of commodity (ore mined), sample year, source of exposure data, and occupational group on RCS concentration. Parameter estimates (β), standard errors, and 95% upper and lower confidence intervals were reported.

Results: The OMED contained 12 995 silica measurements. After limiting to RCS measurements in metal mines, and measures with sufficient information for analysis, 2883 RCS measurements collected from 1974 to 1991 remained, including 2816 individual and 67 summary measurements. In total, 321 individual RCS measurements were simulated from the 67 summary measures. The analysis database contained 2771 (12% simulated) underground measurements and 366 surface measurements (0% simulated). In the underground group, an overall geometric mean (GM) of 0.05 [geometric standard deviation (GSD) 3.09] mg m-3 was estimated with a 6% annual decrease over time. In this group, the commodity with the highest average RCS level was zinc mines (GM = 0.07 mg m-3) and the lowest was iron mines (GM = 0.01 mg m-3). In the surface group, an overall GM of 0.05 (GSD 3.70) mg m-3 was estimated with an 8% decreased over time. In this group, the commodity with the highest average RCS level was gold mines (GM = 0.07 mg m-3) and the lowest was zinc mines (GM = 0.03 mg m-3). In both groups, company collected data had lower estimated RCS compared with regulator collected data.

Conclusions: Historical RCS levels decreased over time. Mean measurements exceeded the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists current health-based threshold limit value (0.025 mg m-3). The main predictors of exposure were commodity, source of exposure data, and sample year. However, low R2 and high GSD values suggest additional predictors of RCS exposures in Ontario’s metal mines exist that were unavailable in OMED.