Objectives: We carried out a detailed exposure assessment of benzene and toluene in two shoe factories in Tianjin, China. Our goal was to identify workers with a broad range of benzene exposures, for an epidemiologic study relating exposure to early biologic effects.
Methods: A comprehensive exposure survey program was initiated. Over a period of 16 months, 2783 personal solvent exposure samples were collected in two workplaces from 250 workers. Mixed-effects models were used to identify factors affecting exposure. Principal component analyses (PCA) and subsequent regression analyses on the scores of the identified principal components were used to relate potential co-exposures to various exposure sources present in the workplace.
Results: The mean benzene exposure level was 21.86 p.p.m. (10th-90th percentiles 5.23-50.63 p.p.m.) in the smaller shoe factory (factory A) and 3.46 p.p.m. (10th-90th percentiles 0.20-7.00 p.p.m.) in the larger shoe factory (factory B). Within-factory exposure levels differed among job titles and were higher for subjects directly involved in handling glues. In contrast, mean toluene levels were relatively similar in the two factories (factory A, 9.52 p.p.m.; factory B, 15.88 p.p.m.). A seasonal trend was identified for both benzene and toluene in factory B. This could be explained in part by changes in air movement and ventilation patterns occurring during the year. A seasonal trend was not present in the smaller shoe factory, where general ventilation was absent. Supplemental analysis showed that exposure levels to other hydrocarbons were low (< or =5 p.p.m.), less than 5% of their respective ACGIH threshold limit values, and generally comparable in the two factories. PCA showed that co-exposures in factory B could largely be explained by glue sources that were used in distinct areas in the workplace.
Conclusions: We demonstrated the occurrence of a broad range of benzene exposure levels in two shoe manufacturing factories in Tianjin, China. Benzene and toluene exposures were determined in part by the degree of contact with glues, the benzene and toluene content of each glue, air movement and ventilation patterns. The availability of long-term monthly personal monitoring data provides an excellent opportunity to estimate individual exposures at different times during the 1 yr period of observation.