Samples of blood were collected from a group of plant workers engaged in the manufacture of ethylene oxide (EO) for periods of up to 14 years and also from a group of control personnel matched by age and smoking habits. Peripheral blood lymphocytes were cultured for cytogenetic analysis. Selected immune and haematological parameters were also investigated. The results of these studies showed no statistically significant difference between the group of plant workers and the control group in respect of any of the biological parameters investigated in this study. Nevertheless, duration of employment in EO manufacturing was positively correlated (p less than 0.05) with the frequency of chromosome breaks and with the percentage of neutrophils in a differential white blood cell count and negatively correlated (p less than 0.05) with the percentage of lymphocytes. As the values of these parameters remained within the normal limits of control populations, the correlations were considered to have no significance for health. Atmospheric concentrations of EO were determined using personnel air samplers and were generally below the detection limit (less than 0.05 ppm) during stable plant operations, although transient concentrations of up to 8 ppm were occasionally recorded. The amount of alkylation (2-hydroxyethyl groups) of the Nt atom of histidinyl residues in haemoglobin was also measured in an attempt to gauge recent individual exposures to EO. Variable but, in most instances, readily measurable amounts of Nt-(2'-hydroxyethyl)-L-histidine (Nt represents the N3 atom of histidine) were found in the haemoglobin of plant workers and in the control group who had not knowingly been exposed to an exogenous source of EO. There was no statistically significant difference between the results obtained in the control group and in the group of plant workers.
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