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Work-site clinical and neurobehavioral assessment of solvent-exposed microelectronics workers.

Twenty-five workers, five currently and 20 formerly involved in the manufacture of hybrid microcircuits, underwent clinical evaluations at the request of a management-union committee concerned about chronic solvent exposures in a research and development laboratory. A battery of neurobehavioral tests was administered to compare the solvent-exposed group with 32 age-, gender-, ethnicity-, and education-matched controls. The tests included: MMPI-I, hand grip strength, tactile sensitivity, dexterity, color discrimination, visual acuity and contrast sensitivity, and tests selected from the computerized Neurobehavioral Evaluation System (NES2). Clinical narratives and retrospective exposure assessments in the study group suggested chronic low-level exposure to solvents, with intermittent acute excursions. Work-related diagnoses included upper respiratory mucosal irritation and sinusitis (44%), lower respiratory reactive airway disease (12%), and dermatitis (5%). Three workers (12%) had findings consistent with a solvent-induced encephalopathy. Significant differences (after Bonferroni correction) were found between the two groups on 5 of 11 NES subtests: symptom scale, mood scale, finger tapping, simple reaction time, and symbol-digit substitution. Differences also reached significance for overall vibration sensitivity thresholds, visual contrast sensitivity, and grip strength. The MMPI average clinical scale elevation was significantly higher in the exposed group than controls. These results support an association between chronic low-dose solvent exposure and measurable neurobehavioral changes.

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