Background: We monitored urinary benzene excretion to examine factors affecting benzene uptake in a sample of the general population living near a petrochemical plant.
Methods: Our study population included 143 subjects: 33 petrochemical plant workers (W) with low level occupational benzene exposure; 30 residents in a small town 2 km from the plant (2kmR); 26 residents in a second small town located 2 to 4 km from the plant (4kmR); and 54 urban residents 25km from the plant (25kmR). Exposure to benzene was evaluated by personal air sampling during one work-shift for the W group, and from 8.00 to 20:00 for general population subgroups, and by urinary benzene (BEN-U).
Results: Median airborne benzene exposure was 25, 9, 7 and 6 μg/m(3) benzene among the W, 2kmR, 4kmR, and 25kmR subgroups, respectively; the highest level was found among the workers, while there was no significant difference among the other groups. Median BEN-U was 2 to 14-fold higher in smokers compared to non-smokers; among non-smokers BEN-U was the highest in W (median 236 ng/L), and lower in the 2kmR (48 ng/L) and 4kmR (63 ng/L) subgroups than in the 25kmR (120 ng/L) subgroup. A multiple linear regression analysis, explaining up to 73% of BEN-U variability, confirmed that active smoking and airborne benzene most strongly affected BEN-U. Among the non-smoking, non-occupationally exposed study subjects, a positive association was found between BEN-U and the distance of residence from the plant. This association was explained by increased exposure to urban traffic emissions in the study group residing at a greater distance from the plant. Environmental tobacco smoke had a marginally positive role.
Conclusion: Among factors affecting benzene uptake in non-occupationally exposed individuals, urban residence contributes to benzene exposure more than residing in close proximity to a petrochemical plant.
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