The chemical risks of petrol

By
Sunday, 15 June, 2003


Research at Oregon Health & Science University (OSHU) and the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) have shown that a benzene derivative damages the nervous system.

In fact, the substance is much more active than non-benzene analogs already known to cause peripheral nerve damage (loss of limb sensation and muscle weakness) in solvent-exposed workers.

The research team was led by Mohammad Sabri, PhD, and Peter Spencer, PhD, FRCPath., of OHSU.

"Previously, researchers believed that benzene derivatives were unable to damage the nervous system," said Spencer. "The substance we studied - 1,2-diacetylbenzene - has a ring-like (aromatic) chemical structure in contrast to the straight-chain (aliphatic) solvents that are well established causes of occupation-related nerve damage. Our data suggests the aromatic substance actually has a much higher neurotoxic potency. In addition, the new findings raise the possibility that related aromatic chemicals may also damage the nervous system. We believe these substances should be tested for neurotoxicity, and occupational exposures should be regulated to prevent illness among workers who come in contact with these chemicals," he said.

One of these related aromatic chemicals, a substance known as Musk tetralin, was used until the 1980s by the fragrance industry to hide product odour in soaps and fragrances. The industry voluntarily withdrew Musk tetralin worldwide after Spencer and fellow researchers demonstrated the substance was neurotoxic. "We hope to develop a method by which urine or other fluids can be tested for the presence of the blue pigment. Since urine discolouration occurs before neurological disease, it may serve to help prevent onset of disease among those exposed to these substances in the workplace or at contaminated sites", said Sabri.

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