Exposure to benzene, toluene and p-, m-, o-xylene (BTX) was studied in 29 gas station attendants and 16 office workers in Sri Lanka. The aim of this study was to assess the exposure level and identify potential exposure mitigating measures. Pre- and post-shift samples of end-exhaled air were collected and analysed for BTX on a thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry system (TD-GC-MS). Urine was collected at the same timepoints and analysed for a metabolite of benzene, S-phenyl mercapturic acid (SPMA), using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Environmental exposure was measured by personal air sampling and analysed by gas chromatography flame ionization detection (GC-FID). Median (range) breathing zone air concentrations were 609 (65.1-1960) μg/m3 for benzene and 746 (<5.0-2770) μg/m3 for toluene. Taking into account long working hours, 28% of the measured exposures exceeded the ACGIH threshold limit value (TLV) for an 8-h time-weighted average of 1.6 mg/m3 for benzene. Xylene isomers were not detected. End-exhaled air concentrations were significantly increased for gas station attendants compared to office workers (p < 0.005). The difference was 1-3-fold in pre-shift and 2-5-fold in post-shift samples. The increase from pre-to post-shift amounted to 5-15-fold (p < 0.005). Pre-shift BTX concentrations in end-exhaled air were higher in smokers compared to non-smokers (p < 0.01). Exposure due to self-reported fuel spills was related to enhanced exhaled BTX (p < 0.05). The same was found for sleeping at the location of the gas station between two work-shifts. Benzene in end-exhaled air was moderately associated with benzene in the breathing zone (r = 0.422; p < 0.001). Median creatinine-corrected S-phenyl mercapturic acid (SPMA) was similar in pre- and post-shift (2.40 and 3.02 μg/g) in gas station attendants but increased in office workers (from 0.55 to 1.07 μg/g). In conclusion, working as a gas station attendant leads to inhalation exposure and occasional skin exposure to BTX. Smoking was identified as the most important co-exposure. Besides taking preventive measure to reduce exposure, the reduction of working hours to 40 h per week is expected to decrease benzene levels below the current TLV.
Keywords: Exhaled air; Gasoline; Occupational hygiene; Urine; Volatile organic compounds.
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