Workers with long term exposure to mixtures of organic solvents below regulatory limits have been reported to experience mild, but clinically detectable, sensory or sensorimotor polyneuropathies. In conjuction with a cross sectional study of behavioural performance a clinical neurological evaluation was conducted among printers and spray painters to examine dose response relations. All 240 subjects completed an occupational history and symptom questionnaire and underwent a clinical neurological examination. On average, subjects had been employed on their current job for six years. Classification of solvent exposure for each subject was based on exposed versus non-exposed job titles and observations during an industrial hygiene walk-through or on the measured concentration of solvents in full shift personal air samples. The average full shift solvent concentration was 302 ppm for printing plant workers and 6-13 ppm for workers at other plants. Isopropanol and hexane were the major constituents. Neurological abnormalities consistent with mild polyneuropathy were found in 16% of subjects; none was clinically significant. Exposed/non-exposed comparisons showed slightly higher frequency of symptoms in the exposed subjects which was not related to solvent level. Subjects categorised as exposed during the walk- through survey also had poorer vibratory sensation measured at the foot and diminished ankle reflexes. In multiple linear regression models, however, controlling for age, sex, alcohol intake, and examiner, no significant (p less than 0.05) relation was found between solvent concentration and poor neurological function except for two point discrimination measured at the foot. This investigation has not provided evidence for dose related adverse neurological effects from exposure to moderately low levels of solvent mixtures for a relatively short duration, although this may be due to the shortness of exposure duration, the type of solvent exposure, or to selection factors.
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