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Dermal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in asphalt workers
  1. Silvia Fustinoni1,*,
  2. Laura Campo2,
  3. Piero Emanuele Cirla2,
  4. Irene Martinotti2,
  5. Marina Buratti1,
  6. Omar Longhi2,
  7. Vito Foà2,
  8. PierAlberto Bertazzi3
  1. 1 Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Mangiagalli e Regina Elena, Italy;
  2. 2 Dipartimento di Medicina del Lavoro, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy;
  3. 3 Università degli Studi di Milano e Fondazione IRCCS Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Italy
  1. Correspondence to: Silvia Fustinoni, Occupational and Environmental Health, Fondazione Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, via S. Barnaba, 8, Milano, 20122, Italy; silvia.fustinoni{at}


Objectives: To assess dermal exposure to 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in asphalt workers by applying polypropylene pads to six body sites (neck, shoulder, upper arm, wrist, groin, ankle), to identify the compounds and exposure sites most representative of total PAH exposure, and to integrate dermal exposure results with environmental and biological data.

Methods: Twenty-four asphalt workers were recruited. Dermal exposure was assessed during a single work shift. Sixteen PAHs (from naphthalene to indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene) were quantified via large-injection-volume gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (limit of quantification from 0.010 to 0.044 ng/cm2). Personal airborne exposure, urinary PAHs and monohydroxy metabolites were also investigated.

Results: Phenanthrene (PHE), present in 100% of the samples, was the most abundant compound (median 0.805-1.825 ng/cm2). High-molecular weight analytes were present in a smaller fraction of the samples, i.e. benzo[a]pyrene (BaP) was present in 75% of the samples (0.046-0.101 ng/cm2). Wrist had the highest total PAH contamination, with median PHE, pyrene (PYR), and BaP concentrations of 1.825, 0.527, and 0.063 ng/cm2. PHE and PYR in wrist samples correlated with almost all 3- to 4-ring PAHs (0.405≤0.856), but not with BaP; BaP correlated with almost all 4- to 6- ring PAHs (0.584≤0.633). Significant correlations were observed between PHE level, airborne exposure, and the corresponding urinary PHE and monohydroxy metabolites. In the case of PYR, significant correlations existed only between urinary PYR and monohydroxy metabolites. Multiple linear regression analysis revealed that 42% of the end-of-shift monohydroxy metabolites were the result of airborne exposure, dermal exposure, and baseline levels of biomarkers.

Conclusions: Dermal exposure to PAHs was in the low ng/cm2 range. PHE or PYR and BaP were the most representative compounds and the wrist was the best location to perform dermal exposure assessments. Both dermal and airborne exposure contributed to the total body burden of PAHs, though the relative contribution was analyte-dependent.

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