Color vision loss among styrene-exposed workers neurotoxicological threshold assessment

Neurotoxicology. 1996 Summer;17(2):367-73.


Styrene represents nowadays one of the most used organic solvent. The current exposure limit proposed for this chemical differs significantly from country to country: the Threshold Limit Value-Time Weighted Average (TLV-TWA) proposed by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) is 50 ppm while the German, Finnish and Swedish occupational exposure limit is 20 ppm. Nevertheless, effects on the nervous system were recently reported in workers exposed at TWA styrene levels below the current TLV. Neuro-optic pathways have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to organic solvent exposure. Analysis and measurements of visual functions can provide important information on early neurotoxic effects. Previous studies support the hypothesis that styrene exposure can induce a dose-dependent color vision loss. The aim of this study is to assess a threshold level below which no detectable effect occurs for color vision. We applied a sub-application of the change point problem in two-phase regression considering one phase as a constant line. In accordance with this model the maximum-likelihood technique was used as a method to examine the dose- effect relationship between external styrene exposure and chromatic discrimination. The present article presents a joint analysis of data from two previously published studies, one carried out in Canada and the other in Italy. The age and seniority of the workers from both countries were remarkably similar, as were the process type, the chemicals used and the work-tasks of exposed subjects. The mathematical method presented here shows the existence of a statistically significant threshold. This finding shows that, in fiberglass-reinforced plastics industry, visual color impairment could be significantly detected above 4 ppm (upper limit of the confidence interval at 5% = 26 ppm). The exact clinical meaning of this effect, and also the progress of the impairment in exposed workers, is still to be assessed in further studies. The results of our study support the need of a reduction of the occupational limits for styrene in workplaces to values close to or lower than German, Finnish or Swedish exposure limits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Chemical Industry
  • Color Perception / drug effects*
  • Color Vision Defects / chemically induced*
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Styrene
  • Styrenes / adverse effects*


  • Solvents
  • Styrenes
  • Styrene