Despite suspicion that inhalation of zirconium should be capable of causing human pulmonary disease, documentation of zirconium pneumoconiosis in humans has been lacking. We studied a likely case of zirconium compound-induced pulmonary fibrosis. The diagnosis was based on the following: (1) a history of gradual increase in symptoms and slowly progressing pulmonary fibrosis by chest roentgenogram compatible with a pneumoconiosis; (2) an appropriate history of exposure and a latency period of about 15 years before the onset of dyspnea and of roentgenographic changes; (3) analysis of open lung biopsy material revealing end-stage fibrosis and honeycombing, a moderate number of birefringent particles, and extremely high levels of a variety of zirconium compounds; and (4) no other potential cause of fibrosis. We conclude that zirconium should be considered a likely cause of pneumoconiosis and that appropriate precautions should be taken in the workplace.
(Arch Intern Med. 1991;151:1197-1201)