Evaluation of half-mask respirator protection in styrene-exposed workers
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Objective: The protection afforded by respirators to styrene (St)-exposed workers varies considerably. Our objective was to study the effective `in the field' reduction in St exposure obtained by negative-pressure half-mask respirators worn by a group of fiberglass-reinforced plastics (FRP) workers. Protection was evaluated by measuring the reduction in urinary St (StU) excretion. Methods: Seven FRP workers not using respiratory protection devices were studied for a week. External exposure to St was evaluated by personal passive sampling, and the internal dose by StU measurement. Then workers were asked to use a half-mask respirator for a week for the entire morning half-shift, and St exposure and internal dose were re-assessed. Results:. Mean environmental levels of St during the morning half-shift were 230–280 mg/m3, i.e., about three times the current limit proposed by ACGIH; the difference among days was not significant. Using respirators was accompanied by a large inter-individual and also intra-individual variability: the estimated reduction of StU values ranged from 30% to 90% (mean 60%). Mean StU values increased by 50% from Monday to Friday, while environmental St concentrations remained steady. Furthermore, the proportion of workers exceeding the biological equivalent exposure limit (BEEL) was 14% on Monday, double (33%) on Thursday, and triple (43%) on Friday. These data suggest a decrease of protection during the week. Conclusions: The protection afforded by negative-pressure half-mask respirators varies widely, which stresses the need to assess the effective reduction of exposure whenever these devices are introduced for St-exposed workers. If respirators are to be re-used for several days, their performance must be evaluated during the last shift of use. Measurement of urinary excretion of unmodified St proved a useful tool for the evaluation of respirator effectiveness in exposed workers.
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