OBJECTIVES--Characterisation of the airborne concentration of 13 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at various workplaces in a graphite electrode and a coke production plant. Validation of the urinary excretion of 1-hydroxypyrene (hydroxypyrene) as a biological marker of exposure to PAH. DESIGN--Cross sectional study of workers exposed to PAHs (106 in the graphite electrode producing plant and 16 in the coke works). METHODS--Personal air sampling during at least six hours per workshift using a glass fibre filter and a Chromosorb 102 solid sorbent tube and analysis of PAHs by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and spectrofluorometric detection (SFD). Collection of spot urine samples before and after the shift and analysis of 1-hydroxypyrene by HPLC and SFD. RESULTS--The workers most exposed to PAHs were those occupied at the topside area of the coke oven plant and those working in the blending and impregnation areas of the graphite electrode producing plant (mean airborne concentration of total PAHs: 199 and 223 micrograms/m3 respectively). Except for naphthalene and perylene, the relative proportion of the different PAHs did not differ between the plants. Pyrene concentration in air was highly correlated with the total airborne PAH concentration (r = 0.83, p < 0.0001) and the correlation coefficients between hydroxypyrene concentration in postshift urine samples and pyrene or total PAHs in air were 0.67 (p < 0.0001) and 0.72 (p < 0.0001) respectively. Excretion of hydroxypyrene doubled when the exposure to pyrene in air increased 10-fold. The half life for the urinary excretion of hydroxypyrene was around 18 hours (95% confidence interval 16.1-19.8). Smoking habits only explained 2.3% of the variance in hydroxypyrene excretion compared with 45% for the pyrene concentration in air. CONCLUSION--The determination of the urinary excretion of hydroxypyrene in postshift urine samples can be used as a suitable biomarker to assess individual exposure to PAHs in coke ovens and in graphite electrode manufacturing plants.
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