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Exposure to benzene, occupational stress, and reduced birth weight


OBJECTIVES The association between birth weight and exposure to benzene, work stress, and other occupational and environmental hazards was investigated.

METHODS In a large petrochemical industry, 792 pregnant workers were enrolled and followed up through delivery between May 1996 and December 1998. Exposure to benzene and other solvents was assessed by an industrial hygienist based on each woman's job title and workplace information. Other occupational and environmental exposures and personal information, including perceived work stress, exposure to noise, physical exertion at work, and passive smoking, were obtained by an interview questionnaire. Univariate and multivariate regression models were used to examine the individual and combined associations of occupational and environmental exposures with birth weight, with adjustment for major confounders including gestational age.

RESULTS In the univariate model, birth weight was negatively associated with exposure to benzene (−58 g (95% confidence interval (95% CI), −115 to −2)) and with work stress (−84 g (95% CI, −158 to −10)). In the multivariate model, there was a significant interaction between exposure to benzene and work stress relative to reduced birth weight, after adjustment for other environmental and occupational exposures and personal variables. Adjusted mean birth weight was 3445 g (95% CI 3401 to 3489) among those with neither exposure, 3430 g for those with exposure to benzene only, 3426 g for those with work stress only, and 3262 g (95% CI 3156 to 3369) for those with both exposures. In other words, there was 183 g (95% CI 65 to 301) reduction in birth weight among those with both exposure to benzene and work stress compared with those with neither exposure. Other work or environmental factors could not explain these findings.

CONCLUSIONS Low level exposure to benzene and work stress interact to reduce birth weight in this population.

  • birth weight
  • benzene
  • work stress

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