Objectives: It is known that some industrial organic solvents are ototoxic. This study was aimed at evaluating the hearing effects of a mixture of organic solvents alone or in combination with noise on employees in paint and lacquer enterprises. The concentration of solvents was below the occupational exposure limits (OEL) for most of the subjects.
Methods: Altogether 517 subjects were divided into the following three groups: persons with no risk due to noise or organic solvent exposure at the workplace, workers exposed to organic solvents only, and workers exposed to both organic solvents and noise.
Results: The relative risk (RR) of hearing loss in the solvent-only exposure group was significantly increased (RR 4.4 and RR 2.8 for noise exposure of < 80 dB-A and < 85 dB-A, respectively) in a wide range of frequencies (2-8 kHz). No additional risk in the solvent + noise exposure group was found (RR 2.8). Hearing thresholds were significantly poorer in a wide range of frequencies (1-8 kHz) for both groups exposed to solvents, when compared with the reference group. The mean hearing thresholds at frequencies of 2-4 kHz were poorer for workers exposed to solvents + noise than for the solvent-only group; this finding suggests an additional effect for noise. However, there was no correlation between hearing loss and the extent of solvent exposure.
Conclusions: The results indicate that occupational organic solvent exposure at moderate concentrations increases the risk of hearing loss, and the ototoxic effects should be considered when the health effects of exposed workers are monitored.