Neurobehavioural tests were performed by 98 dentists (mean age 32, range 24-49) exposed to elemental mercury vapour and 54 controls (mean age 34, range 23-50) with no history of occupational exposure to mercury. The dentists were exposed to an average personal air concentration time weighted average (TWA) of 0.014 (range 0.0007-0.042) mg/m3 for a mean period of 5.5 (range 0.7-24) years and had a mean blood mercury concentration of 9.8 (range 0.6-57) micrograms/l. In neurobehavioural tests measuring motor speed (finger tapping), visual scanning (trail making), visuomotor coordination and concentration (digit symbol), verbal memory (digit span, logical memory delayed recall), visual memory (visual reproduction, immediate and delayed recall), and visuomotor coordination speed (bender-gestalt time), the performance of the dentists was significantly worse than that of the controls. The dentists scored 3.9 to 38.9% (mean 13.9%) worse in these tests. In trail making, digit span, logical memory delayed recall, visual reproduction delayed recall, and bender-gestalt time test scores were more than 10% poorer. In each of the tests in which significant differences were found and in the block design time, the performance decreased as the exposed dose (product of the TWA of air mercury concentrations and the years of exposure) increased. These results raise the question as to whether the current threshold limit value of 0.050 mg/m3 (TWA) provides adequate protection against adverse effects of mercury.
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