A cross sectional study of 101 construction painters was performed to investigate the relation between exposure to mixed organic solvents and changes in central nervous system function. Solvent exposure was estimated using questionnaire data to derive an exposure index (a measure of intensity of exposure) and to estimate the duration and frequency of exposure. Adverse effects on the central nervous system were assessed by self reported questionnaires and eight tests of a computer administered neurobehavioural evaluation system. Factor analysis of both measures of effect yielded factors both biologically plausible and in agreement with other empirical evidence. A consistent positive association was observed between most measures of exposure and the occurrence of neurotoxic symptoms, notably dizziness, nausea, fatigue, problems with arm strength, and feelings of getting "high" from chemicals at work. Associations with exposure were found with the neurobehavioural evaluation system tests of symbol digit substitution and digit span; however, no consistent pattern of effect on neurobehavioural function was observed. This pattern of the occurrence of neurotoxic symptoms without clear evidence of function deficit is consistent with the type 1 toxic central nervous system disorder as classified by the World Health Organisation.
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