Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1995;21 suppl 1:1-44    pdf

Neuropsychiatric function of housepainters with previous long-term heavy exposure to organic solvents

by Lundberg I, Michélsen H, Nise G, Hogstedt C, Högberg M, Alfredsson L, Almkvist O, Gustavsson A, Hagman M, Herlofson J, Hindmarsh T, Wennberg A

Neuropsychiatric effects were examined among 206 men, of whom 135 had been house painters and 71 had been house carpenters, affiliated with their respective trade unions for at least 10 years before 1970. Their lifetime organic solvent exposure was evaluated through the aid of an interview. Relevant potential confounding factors were accounted for in the statistical analysis. Neuropsychiatric symptoms compatible with chronic toxic encephalopathy were more common among the painters than among the carpenters, and these symptoms became increasingly prevalent with increasing cumulative solvent exposure. On only one of 12 psychometric tests, block design, did the painters perform worse than the carpenters, and in this test the painters` performance deteriorated with increasing cumulative exposure. For the majority of the psychometric tests, and for the coordination tests, there were no differences between the painters and carpenters, but the painters with "low" exposure tended to show better, and "heavily" exposed painters worse, results than the carpenters. The 52 painters with the heaviest cumulative exposures and 45 carpenters were examined for psychiatric diagnosis according to DSM-III, with electroencephalography and auditory evoked potential, P-300. Three painters and two carpenters had diagnoses compatible with an organic mental disorder. There were no overall differences between the painters and carpenters, either for the visually examined electroencephalograms or the P-300 latencies.

The excess of neuropsychiatric symptoms among the painters was probably causally linked to solvent exposure. However, these symptoms seemed only rarely, if ever, serious enough to entail a psychiatric diagnosis. Concerning other outcomes, the investigation may not lead to a determination of whether the exposure-response relationship among the painters, with no difference between the entire group of painters and carpenters, is caused by solvent exposure or by selection factors within the group of painters.