Background Comprehensive quantitative silica exposure estimates over time, measured in the same units across a number of cohorts, would make possible a pooled exposure-response analysis for lung cancer Such an analysis would help clarify the continuing controversy regarding whether silica causes lung cancer.Methods Existing quantitative exposure datafor 10 silica-exposed cohorts were retrieved from the original investigators. Occupation- and time-specific exposure estimates were either adopted/adapted or developed for each cohort, and converted to milligram per cubic meter (mg/m(3)) respirable crystalline silica.Results Quantitative exposure assignments were typically based on a large number (thousands) of raw measurements, or otherwise consisted of exposure estimates by experts (for two cohorts). Median exposure level of the cohorts ranged between 0.04 and 0.59 mg/m(3) respirable crystalline silica. Exposure estimates were partially validated via their successful prediction of silicosis in these cohorts.Conclusions Existing data were successfully adopted or modified to create comparable quantitative exposure estimates over time for 10 silica-exposed cohorts, permitting a pooled exposure-response analysis. The difficulties encountered in deriving common exposure estimates across cohorts are discussed. (C) 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.