Company-level, semi-quantitative assessment of occupational styrene exposure when individual data are not available

Ann Occup Hyg. 2005 Mar;49(2):155-65. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/meh088.


In epidemiological research, self-reported information about determinants and levels of occupational exposures is difficult to obtain, especially if the disease under study has a high mortality rate or follow-up has exceeded several years. In this paper, we present a semi-quantitative exposure assessment strategy for nested case-control studies of styrene exposure among workers of the Danish reinforced plastics industry when no information on job title, task or other indicators of individual exposure were readily available from cases and controls. The strategy takes advantage of the variability in styrene exposure level and styrene exposure probability across companies. The study comprised 1522 cases of selected malignancies and neurodegenerative diseases and controls employed in 230 reinforced plastics companies and other related industries. Between 1960 and 1996, 3057 measurements of styrene exposure level obtained from 191 companies, were identified. Mixed effects models were used to estimate expected styrene exposure levels by production characteristics for all companies. Styrene exposure probability within each company was estimated for all but three cases and controls from the fraction of laminators, which was reported by a sample of 945 living colleagues of the cases and controls and by employers and dealers of plastic raw materials. The estimates were validated from a subset of 427 living cases and controls that reported their own work as laminators in the industry. We computed styrene exposure scores that integrated estimated styrene exposure level and styrene exposure probability. Product (boats), process (hand and spray lamination) and calendar year period were the major determinants of styrene exposure level. Within-company styrene exposure variability increased by calendar year and was accounted for when computing the styrene exposure scores. Exposure probability estimates based on colleagues' reports showed the highest predictive values in the validation test, which also indicated that up to 67% of the workers were correctly classified into a styrene-exposed job. Styrene exposure scores declined about 10-fold from the 1960s-1990s. This exposure assessment approach may be justified in other industries, and especially in industries dominated by small companies with simple exposure conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chemical Industry*
  • Denmark
  • Hazardous Substances*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Styrene*


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Styrene