Background: Data from an epidemic reported in Turkey (1955-1959) is the only information about the relationship between hexachlorobenzene (HCB) intake and porphyria cutanea tarda in humans. No information is available on the HCB threshold exposure level to induce porphyria cutanea tarda.
Objectives: To study HCB serum levels and urinary porphyrin excretion in the inhabitants of a village located near an organochlorine compound factory with high HCB concentrations in the air and to detect possible alterations in urinary porphyrin excretion and examine their relationship with HCB serum levels.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: Unit of Porphyrias of a tertiary care facility in Barcelona, Spain.
Participants: Six hundred four inhabitants of the village who were older than 14 years provided serum and urine samples (185 participants were factory workers).
Main outcome measures: Serum HCB was analyzed by gas chromatography coupled to electron capture detection. Quantification of urinary total porphyrins was performed by spectrofluorimetry. Porphyrin profile was determined by high-pressure liquid chromatography.
Results: Hexachlorobenzene was detected in all serum samples (mean, 39.8 ng/mL; range, 1.1-1616.0 ng/mL), and levels were higher in factory workers. Mean +/- SD level urinary total porphyrin average concentration was 98 +/- 69 nmol/L (range, 9-1009 nmol/L). Only the urine sample with the highest porphyrin concentration showed an increase of highly carboxylated porphyrins, with a typical profile of porphyria cutanea tarda. In the remaining 603 urine samples, coproporphyrin was the predominant fraction.
Conclusion: The airborne exposure to and increased body burden of HCB in the Flix village population are not enough to trigger a significant alteration of the heme biosynthesis pathway.