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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Biological Monitoring of Blood Naphthalene Levels as a Marker of Occupational Exposure to PAHs among Auto-Mechanics and Spray Painters in Rawalpindi

Atif Kamal1, Mazhar Qayyum2, Iqbal U Cheema1 and Audil Rashid1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental Sciences, Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

2 Department of Biology, Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:467  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-467

Published: 13 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Routine exposure to chemical contaminants in workplace is a cause for concern over potential health risks to workers. In Pakistan, reports on occupational exposure and related health risks are almost non-existent, which reflects the scarce availability of survey data and criteria for determining whether an unsafe exposure has occurred. The current study was designed to evaluate blood naphthalene (NAPH) levels as an indicator of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among automobile workshop mechanics (MCs) and car-spray painters (PNs). We further determined the relationship between blood NAPH levels and personal behavioural, job related parameters and various environmental factors that may further be associated with elevated risks of occupational exposures to PAHs.

Methods

Sixty blood samples (n = 20 for each group i.e. MC, PN and control group) were collected to compare their blood NAPH levels among exposed (MCs and PNs) and un-exposed (control) groups. Samples were analyzed using high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). Data regarding demographic aspects of the subjects and their socioeconomic features were collected using a questionnaire. Subjects were also asked to report environmental hygiene conditions of their occupational environment.

Results

We identified automobile work areas as potential sites for PAHs exposure, which was reflected by higher blood NAPH levels among MCs. Blood NAPH levels ranged from 53.7 to 1980.6 μgL-1 and 54.1 to 892.9 μgL-1 among MCs and PNs respectively. Comparison within each group showed that smoking enhanced exposure risks several fold and both active and passive smoking were among personal parameters that were significantly correlated with log-transformed blood NAPH levels. For exposed groups, work hours and work experience were job related parameters that showed strong associations with the increase in blood NAPH levels. Poor workplace hygiene and ventilation were recognized as most significant predictors related to differences among workplaces that may enhance the extent of exposure to chemical contaminants.

Conclusions

It appeared that chemical exposure at the workplace may be influenced by multiple environmental factors, but poor workplace hygiene and duration of exposure (long work hours) were the most important factors. Smoking and negligence of workers regarding self protection were among some of the important personal behaviours than can be addressed with better training. There is also a need to improve workplaces hygiene and to rationalize work hours to minimize health risks. Since smoking was an important confounding factor that supplemented most of the actual occupational exposure, a study based on non-smoker subjects is needed to separate out the effects of smoking and other confounding factors that may obscure measurements of actual extent of occupational exposure.