Blood benzene concentrations in workers exposed to oxygenated fuel in Fairbanks, Alaska

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Abstract

Objective: In November 1992 residents of Fairbanks, Alaska became concerned about the potential health effects of an oxygenated fuel program during which 15% (by volume) methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was added to gasoline. To address those concerns, we earlier completed a survey of occupational exposure to MTBE. We conducted a follow-up survey of workers’ exposure to benzene from gasoline in Fairbanks. Design: Cross-sectional exposure survey. Methods: We examined blood concentrations of benzene from a convenience sample of workers taken in December 1992 during the oxygenated fuel program and from another convenience sample of workers taken in February 1993 after the program was suspended. Results: In December, the median blood benzene concentration of samples taken from four mechanics after their workshift (postshift) was 1.32  μg/l (range, 0.84–2.61 μg/l), and seven nonmechanics (drivers and other garage workers) had a median postshift blood benzene concentration of 0.27 μg/l (range, 0.09– 0.45 μg/l). In February, nine mechanics had a median postshift blood benzene concentration of 1.99 μg/l (range, 0.92–3.23 μg/l), and nine nonmechanics had a median postshift blood benzene concentration of 0.26 μg/l (range, 0.2–0.46 μg/l). Conclusion: Mechanics had higher blood benzene concentrations than did nonmechanics, but further study is needed to determine the impact of the oxygenated fuel program on exposure to benzene.

Received: 6 November 1995/Accepted: 2 April 1996