OBJECTIVES: To study mortality and prevalence of neuropsychological symptoms among a cohort of painters known to have been heavily exposed to organic solvents. METHODS: A mortality study of 1292 male painters who had worked in a dockyard in Scotland for > or = 1 year between 1950 and 1992 comprised a nested cross sectional study of 953 surviving painters from the cohort and 953 male non-painters randomly selected from the local population and a case-control study of those with high symptom scores. Mortality, symptoms, and risks associated with painting, adjusting for age, education, smoking, alcohol, and personality were measured. RESULTS: The proportional mortality ratio for all cancers was not increased significantly (110 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 84 to 143), except for a possible excess of deaths from ischaemic heart disease (132, 105 to 164). Standardised mortality ratios were not significantly increased. Among the 260 surviving painters and 539 community controls who responded to the questionnaire there was a significant excess of symptoms among painters; adjusted relative risk (RR) increased significantly with increasing symptom score. These RRs suggested an exposure-response relation; for a high score (12-22) for all symptoms RR was 2.27 (1.20 to 4.30) for 1-4 years of exposure, 2.42 (1.18 to 4.95) for 5-9 years, 2.89 (1.42 to 5.88) for 10-14 years, and 3.41 (1.82 to 6.36) for 15-41 years, compared with controls. In multivariate analyses, painting exposure, and aging were associated with high symptom scores and there was again an increased risk relative to time worked as a painter. CONCLUSION: This study supports the hypothesis that heavy and prolonged exposure to paint solvents leads to neuropsychological ill health.
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