Objective: To investigate the possible impact of long-term occupational exposure to hydrocarbons on respiratory health.
Methods: Respiratory health was assessed by questionnaires, spirometry, and exhaled nitric oxide in 250 male workers from a company handling and distributing refined petroleum products (exposed) and 250 electricians (controls). Exposure to hydrocarbons was assessed by personal air monitoring.
Results: Aerial exposure to hydrocarbons was low. Respiratory and nasal symptoms were significantly more frequent among exposed subjects than among controls. Although forced vital capacity and forced expiratory volume in 1 second did not differ, ratio of forced expiratory volume in 1 second to forced vital capacity and maximal expiratory flows were significantly lower in exposed than in control subjects, adjusting for smoking. Exhaled nitric oxide was significantly higher among exposed subjects (30.1 ppb) than among controls (21.6 ppb), adjusting for age and smoking.
Conclusions: Even low exposure to petroleum-derived hydrocarbons is associated with more respiratory and nasal symptoms, lower pulmonary function, and airway inflammation.