Reports from Scandinavia have suggested behavioural impairment among long term workers exposed to solvents below regulatory standards. A cross sectional study of behavioural performance was conducted among printers and spray painters exposed to mixtures of organic solvents to replicate the Scandinavian studies and to examine dose-response relationships. Eligible subjects consisted of 640 hourly workers from four midwestern United States companies. Of these, 269 responded to requests to participate and 240 were selected for study based on restrictions for age, sex, education, and other potentially confounding variables. The subjects tested had been employed on average for six years. Each subject completed an occupational history, underwent a medical examination, and completed a battery of behavioural tests. These included the Fitts law psychomotor task, the Stroop colour-word test, the Sternberg short term memory scanning test, the short term memory span test, and the continuous recognition memory test. Solvent exposure for each subject was defined as an exposed or non-exposed category based on a plant industrial hygiene walk-through and the concentration of solvents based on an analysis of full shift personal air samples by gas chromatography. The first definition was used to maintain consistency with Scandinavian studies, but the second was considered to be more accurate. The average full shift solvent concentration was 302 ppm for the printing plant workers and 6-13 ppm for the workers at other plants. Isopropanol and hexane were the major components, compared with toluene in Scandinavian studies. Performance on behavioural tests was analysed using multiple linear regression with solvent concentration as an independent variable. Other relevant demographic variables were also considered for inclusion. No significant (p greater than 0.05) relation between solvent concentration and impairment on any of the 10 behavioural variables was observed after controlling for confounding variables. Exposed/non-exposed comparisons showed a significantly poorer digit span among those exposed, but this has not been generally reported in the Scandinavian studies. The medical examination showed no abnormalities of clinical significance. The inability to replicate the findings of the Scandinavian studies could have been due to the shortness of the duration of workers' exposure, the type of solvents in the mixtures, use of different behavioural tests, or to selection factors.
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