Health Effects of Chronic High Exposure to Hexachlorobenzene in a General Population Sample


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Abstract

ABSTRACT.Hexachlorobenzene, an organochlorine compound that accumulates in humans, is widespread throughout the environment. In this study, we describe the health status of inhabitants of a rural village that surrounds an electrochemical factory characterized by high levels of hexachlorobenzene in the air. During 1994, we conducted a cross-sectional study of 1 800 inhabitants in the south of Catalonia, Spain, who were older than 14 y of age. We obtained information on lifestyles and occupational and medical histories via questionnaire. Self-reported health outcomes were validated against clinical records and cancer registry data. Serum levels of hexachlorobenzene were very high in males who worked in the electrochemical factory (geometric mean = 54.6 ng/ml in randomized participants). Levels were lower among subjects who had never worked in the electrochemical factory (females, 14.9 ng/ml; males, 9.0 ng/ml). Levels of other organochlorine compounds (i.e., β-hexachlorocyclohexane, 2,2-bis[p-chlorophenyl]-1,1-dichloroethylene) were in the same range found in other communities. Perceived health, prevalence of self-reported common chronic conditions, and porphyria cutanea tarda, thyroid pathology, Parkinson's disease, cancer, and reproductive outcomes were within the ranges observed in other studies. Employment in the plant, however, was associated with having any of the a priori selected health outcomes that were potentially related to exposure to hexachlorobenzene (odds ratio for cancer prevalence = 1.9; 95% confidence interval = 0.5, 7.6). Our population of workers and nonworkers had the highest levels of hexachlorobenzene ever described. The results suggest that exposure to hexachlorobenzene did not affect the general health status of the this population, but it was associated with specific health effects of the most highly exposed subjects.

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