OBJECTIVES: To evaluate genetic damage as the frequency of sister chromatid exchanges and micronuclei in lymphocytes of peripheral blood of operating room personnel exposed to waste anaesthetic gases. METHODS: Occupational exposure was measured with a direct reading instrument. Venous blood samples were drawn from 10 non-smokers working in the operating room and 10 non-smoking controls (matched by age, sex, and smoking habits). Lymphocytes were cultured separately over 72 hours for each assay with standard protocols. At the end of the culture time, the cells were harvested, stained, and coded for blind scoring. The exchanges of DNA material were evaluated by counting the number of sister chromatid exchanges in 30 metaphases per probe or by counting the frequency of micronuclei in 2000 binucleated cells. Also, the mitotic and proliferative indices were measured. RESULTS: The operating room personnel at the hospital were exposed to an 8 hour time weighted average of 12.8 ppm nitrous oxide and 5.3 ppm isoflurane. The mean (SD) frequency of sister chromatid exchanges was significantly higher (10.2 (1.9) v 7.4 (2.4)) in exposed workers than controls (p = 0.036) the proportion of micronuclei (micronuclei/500 binucleated cells) was also higher (8.7 (2.9) v 6.8 (2.5)), but was not significant (p = 0.10). CONCLUSION: Exposure even to trace concentrations of waste anaesthetic gases may cause dose-dependent genetic damage. Concerning the micronuclei test, no clastogenic potential could be detected after average chronic exposure to waste anaesthetic gas. However, an increased frequency of sister chromatid exchanges in human lymphocytes could be detected. Although the measured differences were low, they were comparable with smoking 11-20 cigarettes a day. Due to these findings, the increased proportion of micronuclei and rates of sister chromatid exchanges may be relevant long term and need further investigation.
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