Biological Monitoring of Occupational Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons at an Electric Steel Foundry in Tunisia

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Abstract

Occupational exposures during iron and steel founding have been classified as carcinogenic to humans, and the exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in this industrial setting may contribute to cancer risk. The occupational exposure to PAHs was assessed in 93 male workers at an electric steel foundry in Tunisia by biomonitoring, with the aims of characterizing the excretion profile and investigating the influence of job title and personal characteristics on the biomarkers. Sixteen 2–6 ring unmetabolized PAHs (U-PAHs) and eight hydroxylated PAH metabolites (OHPAHs) were analyzed by gas chromatography-triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography triple quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry, respectively. Among U-PAHs, urinary naphthalene (U-NAP) was the most abundant compound (median level: 643ng l−1), followed by phenanthrene (U-PHE, 18.5ng l−1). Urinary benzo[a]pyrene (U-BaP) level was <0.30ng l−1. Among OHPAHs, 2-hydroxynaphthalene (2-OHNAP) was the most abundant metabolite (2.27 µg l−1). Median 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHPYR) was 0.52 µg l−1. Significant correlations among urinary biomarkers were observed, with Pearson’s r ranging from 0.177 to 0.626. 1-OHPYR was correlated to benzo[a]pyrene, but not to five- and six-rings PAHs. A multiple linear regression model showed that job title was a significant determinant for almost all U-PAHs. In particular, employees in the steel smelter workshop had higher levels of high-boiling U-PAHs and lower levels of low-boiling U-PAHs than those of workers with other job titles. Among OHPAHs, this model was significant only for naphthols and 1-hydroxyphenanthrene (1-OHPHE). Smoking status was a significant predictor for almost all biomarkers. Among all analytes, U-PHE and 1-OHPHE were the less affected by tobacco smoke, and they were significantly correlated with both low- and high-molecular-weight compounds, and their levels were related to job titles, so they could be proposed as suitable biomarkers of PAH exposure at steel foundries. Based on 1-OHPYR levels, our findings show that occupational exposure of these workers was similar to that reported in recent studies of electric steel foundry workers. The multianalytic approach is useful in revealing different exposure levels among job titles.

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