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Occupational Exposure to Petroleum Products and Respiratory Health: A Cross-Sectional Study From Algeria

Sekkal, Samira MD, PhD; Haddam, Nahida MD, PhD; Scheers, Hans MSc; Poels, Katrien L. PhD; Bouhacina, Linda MD; Nawrot, Tim S. PhD; Veulemans, Hendrik A. PhD; Taleb, Abdesselam MD, PhD; Nemery, Benoit MD, PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: November 2012 - Volume 54 - Issue 11 - p 1382–1388
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31825fa6c9
Original Articles

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.

Supplemental Digital Content is Available in the Text.

From the Laboratory of Medical Toxicology “Toximed” (Drs Sekkal, Haddam, Bouhacina, and Taleb), Faculty of Medicine, University Abou Bekr, Tlemcen, Algeria; Lung Toxicology Research Unit (Mr Scheers, and Drs Nawrot and Nemery), and Laboratory of Occupational Hygiene and Toxicology (Drs Poels and Veulemans), Division of Occupational, Environmental, and Insurance Medicine, Department of Public Health, K.U. Leuven, Leuven, Belgium; and Centre for Environmental Sciences (Dr Nawrot), Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium.

Address correspondence to: Benoit Nemery, Research Unit of Lung Toxicology, Herestraat 49 (O&N 706), B-3000 Leuven, Belgium (

No specific funding was received for this study.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (

©2012The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine