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Epidemiological survey of workers exposed to inorganic germanium compounds
  1. B Swennena,
  2. A Mallantsa,
  3. H A Roelsb,
  4. J P Buchetb,
  5. A Bernardb,
  6. R R Lauwerysb,
  7. D Lisonb
  1. aOccupational Health Department, Union Minière-Olen, Belgium, bUnité de Toxicologie Industrielle et Médecine du Travail, Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Dr D Lison, Industrial Toxicology and Occupational Medicine Unit, School of Public Health, Université catholique de Louvain, Clos Chapelle-aux-Champs 30, POB 30.54, 1200 Brussels, Belgium


OBJECTIVES To assess occupational exposure to inorganic germanium (Ge) in workers from a producing plant, and to assess the health of these workers, with a special focus on respiratory, kidney, and liver functions.

METHODS Cross sectional study of 75 workers exposed to Ge and 79 matched referents. Exposure was characterised by measuring air and urine concentrations of the element during a typical working week, and health was assessed by a questionnaire, clinical examination, lung function testing, chest radiography, and clinical chemistry in serum and urine, including high and low molecular weight urinary proteins.

RESULTS Airborne concentrations of Ge (inhalable fraction) ranged from 0.03 to 300 μg/m, which was reflected by increased urinary excretion of Ge (0.12–200 μg/g creatinine, after the shift at the end of the working week). Lung, liver, and haematological variables were not significantly different between referents and workers exposed to Ge. A slightly higher urinary concentration of high molecular weight proteins (albumin and transferrin) was found in workers exposed to Ge, possibly reflecting subclinical glomerular changes. No relation was found between the intensity or duration of exposure and the urinary concentration of albumin. No difference between referents and workers exposed to Ge was found for other renal variables.

CONCLUSIONS Measurement of urinary Ge can detect occupational exposure to inorganic Ge and its compounds. It is prudent to recommend the monitoring of renal variables in workers exposed to Ge.

  • inorganic germanium
  • occupational exposure
  • biological monitoring

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