Chronic toxic encephalopathy in a painter exposed to mixed solvents

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 May;107(5):417-22. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107417.


This paper describes symptoms and findings in a 57-year-old painter who had been exposed to various organic solvents for over 30 years. He began to work as a painter at 16 years of age, frequently working in poorly ventilated areas; he used solvents to remove paint from the skin of his arms and hands at the end of each work shift. The patient and his family noticed impaired short-term memory function and changes in affect in his early forties, which progressed until after he stopped working and was thus no longer exposed to paints and solvents. After the patient's exposures had ended, serial neuropsychological testing revealed persistent cognitive deficits without evidence of further progression, and improvement in some domains. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed global and symmetrical volume loss, involving more white than gray matter. The findings in this patient are consistent with chronic toxic encephalopathy and are differentiated from other dementing processes such as Alzheimer's disease, multi-infarct (vascular) dementia, and alcoholic dementia. Previous descriptions in the literature of persistent neurobehavioral effects associated with chronic exposure to organic solvents corroborate the findings in this case.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Conference

MeSH terms

  • Brain Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Solvents / poisoning*


  • Solvents