Date: 14 Oct 2009

Validity of new biomarkers of internal dose for use in the biological monitoring of occupational and environmental exposure to low concentrations of benzene and toluene

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This study analyzes the validity of new, more sensitive and specific urinary biomarkers of internal dose, namely, urinary benzene for benzene and urinary toluene and S-benzylmercapturic acid (SBMA) for toluene, to assess their efficacy when compared to traditional biomarkers for biological monitoring of occupational exposure to low concentrations of these two toxic substances.


Assessment was made of 41 workers occupationally exposed to benzene and toluene, 18 fuel tanker drivers and 23 filling-station attendants, as well as 31 subjects with no occupational exposure to these toxic substances (controls). Exposure to airborne benzene and toluene was measured using passive Radiello® personal samplers worn throughout the work shift. In urine samples collected from all subjects at the end of the workday, both the traditional and the new internal dose biomarkers of benzene and toluene were assessed, as well as creatinine so as to apply suitable adjustments.


Occupational exposure to benzene and toluene resulted significantly higher in the fuel tanker drivers than the filling-station attendants, and higher in the latter than in controls. Significantly higher concentrations of t,t-muconic acid (t,t-MA), S-phenylmercapturic acid (SPMA), urinary benzene, SBMA and urinary toluene were found in the drivers than the filling-station attendants or the controls. Instead, urinary phenol and hippuric acid were not different in the three groups. In the entire sample, airborne benzene and toluene values were significantly correlated, as were the respective urinary biomarkers, showing coefficients ranging from 0.36 to 0.98. Subdividing the subjects by smoking habit, higher coefficients were evident in non-smokers than in smokers; at multiple regression analysis t,t-MA, SPMA and urinary benzene and toluene were dependent on the number of cigarettes smoked daily and on airborne benzene and toluene, respectively. Instead, SBMA was dependent only on airborne toluene.


Our research confirmed the validity of t,t-MA and SPMA for use in the biological monitoring of exposure to low concentrations of benzene. Urinary benzene showed comparable validity to SPMA; both parameters are affected by smoking cigarettes in the hours before urine collection, so it is best to ask subjects to refrain from smoking for 2 h before urine collection. Urinary toluene was found to be a more specific biomarker than SBMA.