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Nancy B. Hopf, Jorunn Kirkeleit, Magne Bråtveit, Paul Succop, bGlenn Talaska, Bente E. Moen

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, April 2012, Volume 85, Issue 3, pp 261-271

Purpose: Characterize ethylbenzene and xylene air concentrations, and explore the biological exposure markers (urinary t,t-muconic acid (t,t-MA) and unmetabolized toluene) among petroleum workers offshore. Offshore workers have increased health risks due to simultaneous exposures to several hydrocarbons present in crude oil. We discuss the pooled benzene exposure results from our previous and current studies and possible co-exposure interactions.

Methods: BTEX air concentrations were measured during three consecutive 12-h work shifts among 10 tank workers, 15 process operators, and 18 controls. Biological samples were collected pre-shift on the first day of study and post-shift on the third day of the study.

Results: The geometric mean exposure over the three work shifts were 0.02 ppm benzene, 0.05 ppm toluene, 0.03 ppm ethylbenzene, and 0.06 ppm xylene. Benzene in air was significantly correlated with unmetabolized benzene in blood (r = 0.69, p < 0.001) and urine (r = 0.64, p < 0.001), but not with urinary t,t-MA (r = 0.27, p = 0.20). Toluene in air was highly correlated with the internal dose of toluene in both blood (r = 0.70, p < 0.001) and urine (r = 0.73, p < 0.001). Co-exposures were present; however, an interaction of metabolism was not likely at these low benzene and toluene exposures.

Conclusion: Urinary benzene, but not t,t-MA, was a reliable biomarker for benzene at low exposure levels. Urinary toluene was a useful biomarker for toluene exposure. Xylene and ethylbenzene air levels were low. Dermal exposure assessment needs to be performed in future studies among these workers.