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An assessment of occupational exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the UK.

  • Unwin, John
  • Cocker, John
  • Scobbie, Emma
  • Chambers, Helen
Published Article
The Annals of occupational hygiene
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2006
PMID: 16551675


A cross-industry occupational hygiene survey was commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to determine the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure in UK industry and to determine if one or more target analytes were suitable as markers for assessing total exposure to PAHs. There were no broadly applicable UK exposure standards for assessing total exposure to PAHs. Until 1993 a guidance value for assessing exposure in coke ovens only, where PAH exposure is known to be the highest, was based on gravimetric analysis of cyclohexane-soluble material. Biological monitoring based on urinary 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) is widely reported to be an effective indicator of exposure by both dermal and inhalation routes but there was no UK guidance value. The survey involved an occupational hygiene study of 25 sites using both airborne monitoring of a total of 17 individual PAHs and biological monitoring. The results showed 8 h TWA levels of total PAH in air ranged from 0.4 to 1912.6 microg m(-3) with a GM of 15.8 microg m(-3). The profile of PAHs was dominated by naphthalene, the most volatile 2-ring PAH. Airborne benzo(a)pyrene (BaP) correlated well (r(2) = 0.971) with levels of carcinogenic 4-6 ring PAHs and was an effective marker of exposure for all industries where significant particle bound PAH levels were found and, in particular, for CTPV exposure. The 8 h TWA levels of BaP ranged from <0.01 to 6.21 microg m(-3) with a GM of 0.036 microg m(-3); 90% were <0.75 microg m(-3) and 95% were <2.0 microg m(-3). Two hundred and eighteen urine samples collected from different workers at the end of shift and 213 samples collected pre-shift next day were analysed for 1-OHP. Levels of 1-OHP in end-of-shift samples were generally higher than those in pre-shift-next-day samples and showed a good correlation (r(2) = 0.768) to airborne BaP levels if samples from workers using respiratory protection or with significant dermal exposure were excluded. Urinary 1-OHP in end-of-shift samples ranged from the limit of detection (0.5 micromol mol(-1) creatinine) to 60 micromol mol(-1) creatinine with a mean of 2.49 micromol mol(-1) and a 90th percentile value of 6.7 micromol mol(-1) creatinine. The highest 1-OHP levels were found in samples from workers impregnating timber with creosote where exposure was dominated by naphthalene. If the 11 samples from these workers were excluded from the dataset, the 90% value for end-of-shift urine samples was 4 micromol mol(-1) creatinine (n = 207) and this value has since been adopted by the HSE as a biological monitoring benchmark value.

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