Author(s): Crump K, Van Landingham C
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Abstract NIOSH/NCI (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and National Cancer Institute) developed exposure estimates for respirable elemental carbon (REC) as a surrogate for exposure to diesel exhaust (DE) for different jobs in eight underground mines by year beginning in the 1940s-1960s when diesel equipment was first introduced into these mines. These estimates played a key role in subsequent epidemiological analyses of the potential relationship between exposure to DE and lung cancer conducted in these mines. We report here on a reanalysis of some of the data from this exposure assessment. Because samples of REC were limited primarily to 1998-2001, NIOSH/NCI used carbon monoxide (CO) as a surrogate for REC. In addition, because CO samples were limited, particularly in the earlier years, they used the ratio of diesel horsepower (HP) to the mine air exhaust rate as a surrogate for CO. There are considerable uncertainties connected with each of these surrogate-based steps. The estimates of HP appear to involve considerable uncertainty, although we had no data upon which to evaluate the magnitude of this uncertainty. A sizable percentage (45\%) of the CO samples used in the HP to CO model was below the detection limit which required NIOSH/NCI to assign CO values to these samples. In their preferred REC estimates, NIOSH/NCI assumed a linear relation between C0 and REC, although they provided no credible support for that assumption. Their assumption of a stable relationship between HP and CO also is questionable, and our reanalysis found a statistically significant relationship in only one-half of the mines. We re-estimated yearly REC exposures mainly using NIOSH/NCI methods but with some important differences: (i) rather than simply assuming a linear relationship, we used data from the mines to estimate the CO-REC relationship; (ii) we used a different method for assigning values to nondetect CO measurements; and (iii) we took account of statistical uncertainty to estimate bounds for REC exposures. This exercise yielded significantly different exposure estimates than estimated by NIOSH/NCI. However, this analysis did not incorporate the full range of uncertainty in REC exposures because of additional uncertainties in the assumptions underlying the modeling and in the underlying data (e.g. HP and mine exhaust rates). Estimating historical exposures in a cohort is generally a very difficult undertaking. However, this should not prevent one from recognizing the uncertainty in the resulting estimates in any use made of them.
This article was published in Crit Rev Toxicol
and referenced in Journal of Clinical Toxicology