Sister Chromatid Exchange Analysis in Smelting Plant Workers Exposed to Arsenic

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There are many studies documenting the genotoxic effects of environmental exposure to arsenic. Nevertheless, few data are available on the genotoxic risks of occupational arsenic exposure. In the present study, we have evaluated whether or not occupational exposure to arsenic in a copper smelting plant results in a significant increase in the frequency of sister chromatid exchange (SCE). SCE frequencies, proliferation rate index (PRI), and high frequency cells (HFCs) were evaluated in peripheral blood lymphocytes from a group of 105 arsenic-exposed workers from a Chilean smelting plant (exposed group). Similar assays were conducted on a group of 55 workers employed at the same mine but involved in administrative jobs (internal control), and on 48 workers of another mine, with no significant levels of arsenic (external control). Small but significant increases in SCE frequency were observed in the arsenic-exposed workers compared with the external control group (6.28 ± 0.09 vs. 5.84 ± 0.14 SCE/cell; P < 0.01). Also, significantly higher frequencies of HFCs were observed in the exposed group (2.21% ± 0.20%) than in either the external control group (1.20 ± 0.23; P = 0.002) or the internal control group (1.30 ± 0.24; P = 0.008). However, there was no relationship between arsenic levels in the urine of the subjects and SCE or HFC frequency. The results of the study indicate that copper smelting results in slightly increased levels of DNA damage. However, our data were not consistent with arsenic exposure being the cause of the increase.

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