OBJECTIVES: To determine whether blurred vision caused by exposure to triethylamine (TEA) can be detected by the measurement of contrast sensitivity. METHODS: 41 cold box core makers of three foundries and 82 control workers were examined. A detailed ocular and medical history was obtained from the subjects. The contrast sensitivity of the core makers was measured on Monday and Friday of the same week both before and immediately after work and also on a third day, when air samples of TEA were collected. Contrast sensitivity and visual acuity were measured by optotype figures at full contrast, 2.5% contrast, and 0.6% contrast. The changes in contrast sensitivity were used for the analysis. The results of binocular vision and the results of the dominant eye were analysed. Urine specimens for the analysis of TEA were collected on every occasion when contrast sensitivity was measured. RESULTS: 78% of the core makers had had symptoms of blurred vision, and 31% had had trouble driving or working. The breathing zone eight hour time weighted average TEA concentrations were 0.3-60 mg/m3. The mean urinary TEA concentration after the shift was 35 mmol/mol creatinine. Continuous monitoring showed high peaks of TEA leakage at a core making machine. Changes in binocular visual acuity did not differ between the exposed and unexposed workers. The contrast sensitivity decreased in 49% of the core makers and 21% of the controls (P = 0.002). CONCLUSIONS: The blurred vision caused by exposure to TEA can be documented by measuring contrast sensitivity. The mechanism by which TEA produces symptoms remains an issue of further study.
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