Objective To evaluate the risks of occupational exposure to n-hexane in printing industry.
Methods 76 printing factories using n-hexane were investigated. The concentrations of n-hexane in workplaces were tested. The medical examination was carried out for 179 exposed workers and 208 controls. The concentrations of 2,5-hexanedione in urine were tested among 162 exposed workers and 54 controls. The neural electromyography (EMG) examination was performed on 28 cases exposed to n-hexane for more than 4 years.
Results The solvents containing n-hexane are used to clean the printing machines. The concentration of n-hexane in the air of the workplaces was 1.5~1553.5 (median=178.2) mg/m3% and 17.59% of them exceeded the occupational exposure limit (OEL). The concentration of n-hexane for exposed individuals was 39~215 mg/m3 and 66.67% of them exceeded the OEL.
The results of medical examination showed that the occurrence of conjunctiva congestion (10.65%)*, tremor of fingers (10.06%)* and tendon hyporeflexia (13.41%)** among the exposed workers were significantly higher than that of the controls (4.81%, 6.25% and 4.33%, respectively) (*p<0.05, **p<0.01). The concentrations of 2,5-hexanedione in urine were 0.25~15.6 (1.78±2.98)mg/L among the exposed workers and 11.73% of them exceeded 5 mg/L. The EMG showed that 2 cases suffer from a slight peripheral nerve injury.
Conclusion The concentration of n-hexane in workplaces exceeds the OEL and the abnormal results of medical examinations performed on the exposed workers indicate health risks in the printing industry. These risks are caused by manual labour, overtime work, lack of harmful chemical removal devices and PPE.
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