Exposure to organic solvents. A cross-sectional epidemiologic investigation on occupationally exposed care and industrial spray painters with special reference to the nervous system

S A Elofsson, F Gamberale, T Hindmarsh, A Iregren, A Isaksson, I Johnsson, B Knave, E Lydahl, P Mindus, H E Persson, B Philipson, M Steby, G Struwe, E Söderman, A Wennberg, L Widén
Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health 1980, 6 (4): 239-73
In the present epidemiologic study 80 car or industrial spray painters with long-term low level exposure to organic solvents were examined and compared with two matched reference groups of nonexposed industrial workers (80 persons in each group). The aim of the study was to investigate the possible effects of the solvent exposure on health. The investigation included psychiatric interviews, psychometric tests, neurological, neurophysiological and ophthalmologic examinations, and computed tomography of the brain. The painters' previous and present exposure was carefully assessed by interviews and on-the-job measurements both at modern places of work and in a reconstructed model of a workshop from 1955. On the basis of the psychiatric interviews the psychiatric symptoms were rated according to a specially designed scale of 46 different items, graded in seven steps of increasing severity. The psychological performance was assessed by a battery of 18 tests. The neurological and neurophysiological examinations comprised visual evoked responses (VER), electroencephalography (EEG), and computerized EEG analysis (SPA) for the central nervous system and electroneurography (ENeG), the estimation of vibration sense thresholds, and a quantified neurological examination for the peripheral nervous system. The ophthamologic examination concentrated on the condition of the lens. Statistically significant differences between the exposed individuals and referents were found for psychiatric items indicative of a slight cerebral lesion (ie, a neurasthenic syndrome). The psychometric tests revealed statistically significant differences between the groups with respect to reaction time, manual dexterity, perceptual speed, and short-term memory. No differences were found with respect to performance on verbal, spatial, and reasoning tests. Significant differences between the groups were also found for the majority of the neurophysiological parameters measuring peripheral nerve functions, the most pronounced occurring in the long, sensory fibers. Moreover EEG and VER showed some differences between the groups, as did the results of the ophthalmologic examination and the computed tomography. Finally, it should be emphasized that the exposure levels, as measured at modern places of work and in the reconstructed workshop from 1955, were found to be considerably lower than the valid threshold limit values in Sweden.

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