In 1939, animal researchers devised an astonishing treatment for silicosis, the debilitating lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust. They found that inhalation of metallic aluminium could prevent silicosis in laboratory rabbits,(1) and from the early 1940s to the mid- 1950s, the technique was widely employed by industry in an attempt to treat or prevent the condition amongst workers.(2)
Before beginning work, men whose occupations exposed them to silica, passed through an aluminium dusting chamber where they breathed a daily dose of the powder. But in 1956, studies of pottery workers showed that the method did not work and the Industrial Pulmonary Disease Committee of Britain's Medical Research Council recommended that the technique should not be used.(3)
Today we know that the treatment itself carried risks. Although large doses of aluminium proved harmless to animals,(4) cases of lung damage and cancer have been reported amongst aluminium workers.(5) Furthermore, studies of Canadian miners who breathed aluminium powder to prevent silicosis, have revealed symptoms consistent with the current theory that aluminium may cause Alzheimer's Disease!(6)
I) J.J.Denny et al, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1939, vol.40, 213: reported in ref 3.
2) W.R.Parkes, Occupational Lung Disorders (Butterworths,1982).
3) M.C.S.Kennedy, British Journal of lndustrial Medicine, 1956, vol.13, 85-101.
4) L.U.Gardner et al, Journal of Industrial Hygiene & Toxicology, 1944, vol.26, 211-223.
5) M.J.Ellenhorn & D.G.Barceloux, Medical Toxicology (Elsevier, 1988).
6) Lord Walton of Detchant, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1992, vol.85, 69-70.
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