OBJECTIVES: To assess the association between petrochemical exposure and spontaneous abortion, a retrospective epidemiological study in a large petrochemical complex in Beijing, China was conducted. METHODS: Plant employment records identified 3105 women who were married, were 20-44 years of age, and had never smoked. Of those, 3070 women (98.8%) reported at least one pregnancy. From this group, 2853 (93%) of the women participated in the study. According to their plant employment record, about 57% of these women workers reported occupational exposure to petrochemicals during the first trimester of their pregnancy. Trained interviewers administered a standardised questionnaire to this group of women and their husbands, collecting information on reproductive history, pregnancy outcomes, employment history, occupational exposure, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, indoor air pollution, and demographic variables. The results from the womens' first pregnancies were analysed. RESULTS: There was a significantly increased risk of spontaneous abortion for women working in all of the production plants with frequent exposure to petrochemicals (8.8%; range of 5.8%-9.8%) compared with those working in nonchemical plants (2.2%; range of 0.0%-7.1%). Also, when a comparison was made between exposed and non-exposed groups within each plant, exposure to petrochemicals was consistently associated with an increased risk of spontaneous abortion. The overall odds ratio (OR) was 2.7 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.8 to 3.9) after adjusting for potential confounders. When the analysis was performed with the exposure information obtained from the women' interview responses for (self reported) exposures, the estimated OR for spontaneous abortions was 2.9 (95% CI 2.0 to 4.0). The analysis was repeated by excluding those 452 women who provided inconsistent reports between recalled exposure and work history, and a comparable risk of spontaneous abortion (OR 2.9; 95% CI 2.0 to 4.4) was found. In analyses for exposure to specific chemicals, an increased risk of spontaneous abortion was found with exposure to most chemicals, and the results for benzene (OR 2.5; 95% CI 1.7 to 3.7), gasoline (OR 1.8; 95% CI 1.1 to 2.9), and hydrogen sulphide (OR 2.3; 95% CI 1.2 to 4.4) were significant. CONCLUSION: An increased risk of spontaneous abortion was found associated with the exposure to petrochemicals, including benzene, gasoline, and hydrogen sulphide.
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