Evaluation of exposure biomarkers in offshore workers exposed to low benzene and toluene concentrations

  • Nancy B. HopfEmail author
  • Jorunn Kirkeleit
  • Magne Bråtveit
  • Paul Succop
  • Glenn Talaska
  • Bente E. Moen
Original Article



Characterize ethylbenzene and xylene air concentrations, and explore the biological exposure markers (urinary t,t-muconic acid (t,t-MA) and unmetabolized toluene) among petroleum workers offshore. Offshore workers have increased health risks due to simultaneous exposures to several hydrocarbons present in crude oil. We discuss the pooled benzene exposure results from our previous and current studies and possible co-exposure interactions.


BTEX air concentrations were measured during three consecutive 12-h work shifts among 10 tank workers, 15 process operators, and 18 controls. Biological samples were collected pre-shift on the first day of study and post-shift on the third day of the study.


The geometric mean exposure over the three work shifts were 0.02 ppm benzene, 0.05 ppm toluene, 0.03 ppm ethylbenzene, and 0.06 ppm xylene. Benzene in air was significantly correlated with unmetabolized benzene in blood (r = 0.69, p < 0.001) and urine (r = 0.64, p < 0.001), but not with urinary t,t-MA (r = 0.27, p = 0.20). Toluene in air was highly correlated with the internal dose of toluene in both blood (r = 0.70, p < 0.001) and urine (r = 0.73, p < 0.001). Co-exposures were present; however, an interaction of metabolism was not likely at these low benzene and toluene exposures.


Urinary benzene, but not t,t-MA, was a reliable biomarker for benzene at low exposure levels. Urinary toluene was a useful biomarker for toluene exposure. Xylene and ethylbenzene air levels were low. Dermal exposure assessment needs to be performed in future studies among these workers.


Benzene Toluene Xylene Ethylbenzene Biomonitoring Petroleum workers Crude oil 



This research study was supported by the Research Council of Norway under the PETROMAKS programme. Pertra AS and Norsk Hydro AS, the operators of the oil field during the study period financed the laboratory analysis for BTEX. We thank the management, employees, contract workers, and catering personnel on the production vessel Petrojarl Varg and Oseberg Field Center for their hospitality, cooperation, and flexibility throughout the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy B. Hopf
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jorunn Kirkeleit
    • 2
  • Magne Bråtveit
    • 2
  • Paul Succop
    • 3
  • Glenn Talaska
    • 3
  • Bente E. Moen
    • 4
  1. 1.Institut universitaire romand de Santé au Travail, Institut für Arbeit und GesundheitInstitute for Work and Health (IST)LausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Public Health and Primary Health CareUniversity of BergenBergenNorway
  3. 3.Department of Environmental HealthUniversity of Cincinnati College of MedicineCincinnatiUSA
  4. 4.Department of Occupational MedicineHaukeland University HospitalBergenNorway

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