Correlation between environmental and biological monitoring of exposure to benzene in petrochemical industry operators

13 November 2019

Carrieri, M., Tranfo, G., Pigini, D., Paci, E., Salamon, F., Scapellato, M.L., Fracasso, M.E., Manno, M., Bartolucci, G.B.

Toxicology Letters, 2010, 192(1), 17-21.

The present work was aimed to study in petrochemical industry operators the correlation, if any, between environmental exposure to low levels of benzene and two biological exposure indexes in end-shift urine, i.e. trans, trans-muconic acid (t,t-MA) and S-phenylmercapturic acid (SPMA). Exposure to benzene was assessed in 133 male subjects employed in outdoor operations in a petrochemical plant, using personal passive-diffusive air samplers worn at the breathing zone; adsorbed benzene was determined by GC-FID analysis. S-PMA was determined by a new HPLCMS/MS method, after (quantitative) acidic hydrolysis of the cysteine conjugate precursor. t,t-MA was measured by an HPLC-UV method. Smoking habits were assessed by means of a self-administered questionnaire.

Both environmental and biological monitoring data showed that benzene exposure of petrochemical industry operators was low (mean values were 0.014 ppm, 101 μg/g creat, and 2.8 μg/g creat, for benzene, t,t-MA, and S-PMA, respectively) if compared with the ACGIH limits. Cigarette smoking was confirmed to be a strong confounding factor for the urinary excretion of both metabolites: statistically significant increases of t,t-MA and S-PMA levels were recorded in smokers when compared to non-smokers (p < 0.0001). The best correlation found was that between exposure to benzene and S-PMA levels, particularly in non-smokers. This was partly due to the hydrolysis of the S-PMA precursor N-acetyl-S-(1,2-dihydro-2-hydroxyphenyl)-l-cysteine, a crucial step of the new analytical method used, which indeed reduced the variability of the results by means of an improved standardization of this critical preanalytical factor. A weaker correlation was found between exposure to benzene and t,t-MA, possibly explained by the fact that the latter is also a metabolite of sorbic acid, a common diet component.

In summary, even at such low levels of exposure, urinary metabolites proved to be a useful tool for assessing individual occupational exposure to benzene, S-PMA appearing to be a more specific biomarker than t,t-MA, particularly in non-smokers.