Discussion paper

Scand J Work Environ Health 2024;50(3):135-141    pdf

https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.4155 | Published online: 14 Mar 2024, Issue date: 01 Apr 2024

Successful prevention of organic solvent induced disorders: history and lessons

by Albin M, Johanson G, Hogstedt C

In this discussion paper, we describe the history of the science and societal action resulting in the mitigation of neurotoxic disorders from exposure to organic solvents at the workplaces in Sweden. When alkyd paints were introduced in large scale in construction painting in the 1960s and 1970s, Scandinavian unions voiced increasing concern as members reported symptoms like headache and vertigo, supported by participatory studies and case studies. Although acute and chronic neurotoxic effects were established for some specific solvents such as carbon disulphide, this was not the case for those used in the new paints. Union advocacy promoted formal epidemiological studies, providing increasing evidence for chronic neurotoxicity at levels far below current occupational exposure levels. The results were widely disseminated and accepted and led to concerted action with preventive measures, most importantly substitution of the organic solvents in paints for indoor use, but also drastic reductions in occupational exposure limits. The findings also resulted in funding of further research on solvent toxicity and the establishment of expert groups to advice authorities on occupational standards for exposure to chemicals. The substitution strategy was subsequently adopted in many other countries and occupational exposure limits were lowered, although several years or even decades later.

While the societal context in Sweden was unique in many ways, we conclude that there are lessons to be learned from this preventive success when addressing current challenges.

This article refers to the following texts of the Journal: 1976;2(4):240-255  1975;1(4):199-218  1977;3(2):91-99  1994;20 Special issue:59-64