International archives of occupational and environmental health

Urinary excretion of phenols as an indicator of occupational exposure in the coke-plant industry.

PMID 9352337


In the present study the relationship between the level of exposure to o-cresol and of 2,4- +2,5-, 3,4-, and 3,5-xylenols and the urinary excretion of their metabolites was examined. The mixed exposure to phenolic derivatives of exposed workers during their work shift was monitored by personal air sampling of the breathing-zone air and by measurements of phenol, o-cresol, and xylenol isomer concentrations in shift-end urine. The study subjects were 76 men working at a coke plant who were 22-58 years old and 34 nonexposed subjects. Concentrations of phenolic compounds were determined in the breathing-zone air during the work shift, whereas concentrations of phenol, cresol, and xylenol isomers were measured in urine collected after the work shift. Concentrations of phenols in air and urine were determined by gas chromatography with flame-ionization detection. Urine samples were extracted after acid hydrolysis of glucuronides and sulfates by solid-phase extraction. The gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method was applied to identify metabolites in urine samples. The time-weighted average concentrations of phenol, cresol, and xylenol isomers detected in breathing-zone air showed that the exposure level of the workers was relatively low. The geometric mean values were as follows: 0.26 mg/m3 for phenol, 0.09 mg/m3 for o-cresol, 0.13 mg/m3 for p- and m-cresol, and 0.02-0.04 mg/m3 for xylenols at the tar-distillation process. Corresponding urinary concentrations were 10.39, 0.53, and 0.25-0.88 mg/g creatinine for phenol, o-cresol, and xylenol isomers, respectively. The correlation coefficients between the o-cresol and 2,4-, 2,5-, 3,4-, and 3,5-xylenol concentrations measured in urine and in the breathing-zone air were statistically significant, varying in the range of 0.54-0.74 for xylenol isomers and being 0.69 for o-cresol. We have found that the presence of o-cresol and xylenol isomers in urine can be used as a biomarker for phenol exposure. Analysis performed on workers at the tar-distillation process showed that they were exposed to relatively low concentrations of phenolic compounds.