Solvent-associated decrements in olfactory function in paint manufacturing workers

Authors

  • Dr. Brian S. Schwartz MD, MS,

    Corresponding author
    1. Clinical Epidemiology Unit, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Section of General Internal Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
    Current affiliation:
    1. Johns Hopkins University, School of Hygiene and Public Health, Division of Occupational Medicine, 615 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205
    • Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Department of Neurology, Francis Scott Key Medical Center, 4940 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, MD, 21224
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  • D. Patrick Ford MD, MPH,

    1. Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Occupational Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Karen I. Bolla PhD,

    1. Department of Neurology, Francis Scott Key Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Jacqueline Agnew PhD,

    1. Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Occupational Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Nathaniel Rothman MD, MPH,

    1. Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Occupational Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Margit L. Bleecker MD, PhD

    1. Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Occupational Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
    2. Department of Neurology, Francis Scott Key Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland
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Abstract

To assess the effects of low-level organic solvent exposure on olfactory function, a cross-sectional study in paint manufacturing workers was undertaken. Workers in two paint manufacturing facilities (N = 187) were tested using the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), a standardized, quantitative test of olfactory function. Industrial hygiene air samples over the past 13-15 years revealed that average solvent exposures in these plants were 2-40% of the existing threshold limit values for the three chemicals measured. Stratification by smoking status revealed evidence of dose-related decrements in olfactory function (p = .01) only in non-smokers. Furthermore, those nonsmoking workers in the highest exposure category had UPSIT scores below the fifth percentile for their age. These results suggest that solvents may cause nervous system dysfunction at lower levels than previously suspected, and that the olfactory system may be a critical target organ for the neurotoxic effects of solvents and other chemicals.

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