Benzene exposure in the shoemaking industry in China, a literature survey, 1978-2004

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2006 Nov;46(2):149-56. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2006.06.009. Epub 2006 Sep 20.


This article presents a summary of benzene exposure levels in the shoemaking industry in China reported in the Chinese medical literature between 1978 and 2004. A comprehensive search identified 182 papers reporting such exposure data. These papers could be classified into two categories: benzene poisoning case reports and industrial hygiene surveys. From each paper, the following information was abstracted whenever available: location and year of occurrence, occupation and/or task involved, benzene content in adhesives/solvents, work environment, working conditions, working hours, diagnosis, and air monitoring data of benzene. A total of 333 benzene measurements (88 averages, 116 minimums, 129 maximums) in the shoemaking industry were reported in the 182 papers identified. The data were analyzed in terms of geographical location, time period, type of ownership (state, township, or foreign), type of report (benzene poisoning reports vs. industrial hygiene surveys), and job title (work activity) or process. The reported data covered a wide range; some measurements were in excess of 4500 mg/m(3). Thirty-five percent of the reported benzene concentrations were below 40 mg/m(3), which was the national occupational exposure limit (OEL) for benzene between 1979 and 2001. The remaining 65% measurements, which exceeded the national OEL in effect at the time, and were distributed as follows: 40-100 mg/m(3), 11%; 100-300 mg/m(3), 21%; 300-500 mg/m(3), 13%; and 500+ mg/m(3), 20%. However, only 24% of the reported measurements after 2002 were below 6 mg/m(3), i.e., Permissible Concentration-Time Weighted Average (PC-TWA) and 10 mg/m(3), i.e., Permissible Concentration-Short Term Exposure Limit (PC-STEL), the newly amended benzene OELs in effect after May 2002. The data demonstrated that the majority of the facilities in the shoemaking industry reported in the literature were not in compliance of the OEL for benzene in effect at the time. Overall, the data show a clear downward trend of benzene exposure levels over the years, particularly after the introduction of the new lower OEL in 2002. Even though substantially lower when compared to levels in the past, current benzene exposure measurements from the literature review suggest that many facilities in the shoemaking industry in China have benzene concentrations that are still above the new OEL. The reported data, stratified by job, year and survey reason, can be used as part of the information and analysis for developing a job-exposure matrix in retrospective exposure assessment and thus may be part of the information used in developing historical exposure estimates in epidemiologic studies of shoe workers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Benzene / analysis*
  • China
  • Humans
  • Industry* / standards
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Shoes*
  • Threshold Limit Values


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Benzene