Respiratory Health Study-91



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Project Leader and Principal UC Investigators

Marc B. Schenker, M.D., M.P.H.

David F. Goldsmith, Ph.D.

Stephen McCurdy, M.D., M.P.H., Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, ITEH UCD School of Medicine


Of keen interest to growers and nongrowers alike is a study begun last year to determine the respiratory health of rice farmers and farm employees.

Compared to other segments of the working population, little had been known about the respiratory health of farmers. The Rice Research Board authorized this study in response to concerns over whether silica fibers emitted during rice straw burning pose a public health threat.

Preliminary results of the survey indicate that rice farmers are probably healthier than the general population.


Researchers from the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine worked with UC Cooperative Extension personnel to conduct the survey. The first step in the study involved a cross-sectional survey of 474 Northern California rice farmers and their employees during the spring of 1991. The original. goal, however, was to develop a sample size of 700 to 1,000.

Participants volunteering for the study live in Colusa, Robbins, Yuba City, Glenn, Maxwell, Willows, Pleasant Grove and Gridley. Demographics: 463 men, 95 percent white, mean age 50 years, mean duration in rice farming 26 years, and mean farm size was 340 acres. Approximately 90 percent of the participants reported personal involvement in cultivation activities such as field preparation, harvesting, and post-harvest burning of rice stubble. Current smokers constituted 8.5 percent, ex-smokers 26.3 percent and never-smokers were 65.3 percent of the sample size.

The participants completed a health and work questionnaire and later were administered chest X-rays and pulmonary function tests (spirometry). All participants were mailed their pulmonary function and chest X-ray results. Those with abnormalities were advised of their condition.

Data analysis began in April and is expected to continue through June 1992. (No statistical information was available at the time the annual report was prepared.) A final summary report is planned for July 1992.

Preliminary results indicate that rice farmers have a lower prevalence for current smoking and respiratory symptoms than the general male population. Researchers caution, however, that selection bias may have contributed to these findings and that further research into how specific farming-related exposures affects the respiratory health of rice farmers is needed.


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