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Neurobehavioral performance of PAH exposure in male coal miners in Shanxi, China: a cross-sectional study



Coal miners are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of neurotoxicants formed and released during incomplete combustion of coal. High levels of anxiety and depression have been reported in coal miners, but little is known about neurobehavioral functions in populations that are occupationally exposed to PAHs. We tested neurobehavioral performance in coal miners and correlated it with levels of urinary markers of PAH exposure.


Levels of urinary PAH metabolites were measured in 652 male coal miners as an indicator of exposure. Subjects were divided into a high-exposure group and a low-exposure group based on the median level of total PAH metabolites. A neurobehavioral core test battery and a questionnaire were used to assess neurobehavioral performance and collect demographic information, respectively.


The median level of total PAH metabolites in urine was 4.88 μmol/mol creatinine. Highly exposed workers exhibited more fatigue-inertia than less-exposed workers (p < 0.05), and had lower scores in forward digit span, digit symbol, and Benton visual retention tests (p < 0.05). Multiple linear regression indicated that age, education, and shift work were significantly correlated with test scores.


PAH exposure may be associated with neurobehavioral alterations, which should be monitored in coal miners to prevent neurobehavioral disorders.

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The authors would like to acknowledge with gratitude to all the participants, who provided us valuable data. We thank all interviewers for their assistance with data collection. We also thank Liwen Bianji, Edanz Group China (, for editing the English text of a draft of this manuscript. The study was supported by a Grant from National Natural Science Foundation of China (81502795) and a grant from Personnel Support Project of Shanxi Provincial Graduate Co-Cultivation Area (2017JD23).

Author information

FW, TW and YWZ conceived the idea and designed the study. BZ, LYY, GSL, and CJW contributed to data collection and quality control. BZ and LYY contributed to the calculation of NCTB scores. FW, LYY and YWZ performed data analysis and drafted the manuscript. All the authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Fang Wang.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of Shanxi Medical University (Approval no. 2015LL078). All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Wang, F., Yang, L., Zhang, B. et al. Neurobehavioral performance of PAH exposure in male coal miners in Shanxi, China: a cross-sectional study. Int Arch Occup Environ Health (2020).

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  • Pahs
  • Neurobehavioral performances
  • Epidemiology
  • Coal miners