OBJECTIVES--Low exposures to volatile aromatic hydrocarbons and cytogenetic effects in peripheral white blood cells were determined in 25 healthy workers employed in different areas of a styrene production plant in the former German Democratic Republic. The results were compared with 25 healthy unexposed controls (matched for age and sex) employed in the same company. METHODS--The concentrations of aromatic hydrocarbons determined from active air sampling in all areas of the factory (styrene: 73-3540 micrograms/m3 (< 0.01-0.83 ppm); ethylbenzene 365-2340 micrograms/m3 (0.08-0.53 ppm); benzene 73-3540 micrograms/m3 ( < 0.02-1.11 ppm); toluene 54-2960 micrograms/m3 (0.01-0.78 ppm); xylenes 12-94 micrograms/m3 ( < 0.01-0.02 ppm)) were considerably lower than in the pump house ( > 4000 micrograms/m3 styrene, ethylbenzene, benzene, and toluene; > 500 micrograms/m3 xylenes), which was only intermittently occupied for short periods. Passive personal monitoring, biomonitoring of exhaled air and metabolites (mandelic, phenylglyoxylic, trans, trans-muconic, hippuric, o-, m- and p-methylhippuric acids, and phenol) in urine samples collected before and after an eight hour working shift was used to assess individual exposure. Questionnaires and examination of company records showed that the historical exposure was far higher than that measured. Genotoxic monitoring was performed by nuclease P1-enhanced 32P-postlabelling of DNA adducts in peripheral blood monocytes, and DNA single strand breaks, sister chromatid exchange, and micronuclei in lymphocytes. The content of kinetochores in the micronuclei was determined by immunofluorescence with specific antibodies from the serum of CREST patients. RESULTS--No genotoxic effects related to exposure were detected by DNA adducts or DNA single strand breaks and sister chromatid exchange. The only effect related to exposure was an increase in kinetochore positive micronuclei in peripheral lymphocytes; the frequency of total micronuclei in peripheral lymphocytes did not change. Smoking was confirmed by measurement of plasma cotinine, and no confounding effect was found on any of the cytogenetic variables. CONCLUSIONS--Low occupational exposure to styrene, benzene, and ethylbenzene did not induce alterations of genotoxicological variables except kinetochore positive micronuclei. This is the first reported use of the CREST technique for an in vivo study in occupational toxicology, which thus could serve as a valuable and sensitive technique for toxicogenic monitoring.
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