OBJECTIVES: A study was conducted in coke oven workers to evaluate the biological consequences of the exposure of these workers, particularly production of potential genotoxic factors. METHODS: 60 coke oven workers and 40 controls were recruited in the same iron and steel works. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was assessed by job and measurement of 1-hydroxypyrene (1OHP) in urine samples. An unscheduled DNA synthesis assay was performed on rat pleural mesothelial cells used as a test system to evaluate the effect of the workers' filtered urine on the DNA repair capacity of rat cells to determine whether DNA damaging agents are present in the urine of these workers. RESULTS: Urinary concentrations of 1OHP ranged from 0.06 to 24.2 (mean (SD) 2.1 (3.6)) mumol/mol creatinine in exposed coke oven workers, and from 0.01 to 0.9 in controls (0.12 (0.15)). These high concentrations in coke oven workers reflected recent exposure to PAHs and were in agreement with the assessment of exposure by job. No significant difference was found between coke oven workers and controls in the DNA repair level of rat cells treated with urine samples. However, the rat cell repair capacity decreased with increasing 1OHP concentrations in the exposed population (r = -0.28, P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: As high concentrations of 1OHP were found in the urine of some workers, a more stringent control of exposures to PAHs in the workplace is required. Exposure to PAHs was not associated with a clear cut modification of the urinary excretion of DNA damaging factors in this test, as shown by the absence of increased unscheduled DNA synthesis in rat cells. However, impairment of some repair mechanisms by urinary constituents is suspected.
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