Byssinosis is an occupational lung disease caused by exposure to cotton, flax and hemp dust. Maximum number of workers with byssinosis are reported in the cotton textile industry as it is one of the largest industries in the world. In India, there are about 1.07 million workers engaged in the manufacture of cotton textiles.
The workers engaged in the initial processes of textile manufacturing (blow, card, frame and ring frame) are exposed to cotton dust and develop the disease after some years of exposure. Several studies have reported byssinosis in India but they failed to demonstrate the severity and magnitude of the disease.
The low prevalence reported in those studies created an impression that the disease is not an important problem. The epidemiological studies conducted by NIOH for the first time showed a very high prevalence of the disease especially in blow (30%) and card (38%) sections. These prevalence figures were same as reported in U.K. and other countries of the world.
Byssinosis in Jute Mill Workers
Occurrence of byssinosis in cotton, flax and hemp workers is well established but there is no agreement as regard to its occurrence in jute workers. An environmental and epidemiological study carried out by ROHC (E) in jute mill workers showed symptoms of byssinosis in 8.7% of the workers exposed to high levels of jute dust. This was corroborated by a definite pattern of across the shift changes in ventilatory function during the working week among the byssinotic jute mill workers. Detailed analysis of the air-borne environmental dust from jute mill revealed high concentrations of bacterial endotoxin, a substance believed to be responsible for byssinosis in cotton textile workers. This was the first report on occurrence of byssinosis among jute mill workers in India.