Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1985;11(4):265-269    pdf


Arsenic exposure to smelter workers. Clinical and neurophysiological studies.

by Blom S, Lagerkvist B, Linderholm H

Forty-seven copper smelter workers, exposed to airborne arsenic for 8-40 years, were examined clinically with electromyography, and the motor and sensory conduction velocities in their arms and legs were determined. Fifty age-matched industrial workers not exposed to arsenic formed a reference group. The level of arsenic in the air at the smeltery was estimated to be below 500 micrograms/m3 before 1975 and approximately 50 micrograms/m3 thereafter. Urine analyses of arsenic showed a mean value of 71 micrograms/l (1 mumol/l) in the exposed group; this value is lower than that found in earlier studies reporting clinically detectable neuropathy. Only minor neurological and electromyographic abnormalities were found. A slightly reduced nerve conduction velocity in two or more peripheral nerves was more common among the arsenic workers than the referents, and a statistically significant correlation between cumulative exposure to arsenic and reduced nerve conduction velocity in three peripheral motor nerves was found. This occurrence was interpreted as a sign of slight subclinical neuropathy. In conclusion the risk of clinically significant neuropathy is small when exposure is kept below 50 micrograms/m3 in workroom air. The subclinical findings may be of interest in relation to the prevention of early adverse health effects from arsenic exposure.