OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to identify possible health effects caused by different cleaning agents used in graffiti removal. METHODS: In 38 graffiti removers working 8-h shifts in the Stockholm underground system, the exposure to organic solvents was assessed by active air sampling, biological monitoring, and by interviews and a questionnaire. Health effects were registered, by physical examinations, porta7ble spirometers and self-administered questionnaires. The prevalence of symptoms was compared with 49 controls working at the underground depots, and with 177 population controls. RESULTS: The 8-h time-weighted average exposures (TWA) were low, below 20% of the Swedish permissible exposure limit value (PEL) for all solvents. The short-term exposures occasionally exceeded the Swedish short-term exposure limit values (STEL), especially during work in poorly ventilated spaces, e.g. in elevators. The graffiti removers reported significantly higher prevalence of tiredness and upper airway symptoms compared with the depot controls, and significantly more tiredness, headaches and symptoms affecting airways, eyes and skin than the population controls. Among the graffiti removers, some of the symptoms increased during the working day. On a group basis, the lung function registrations showed normal values. However, seven workers displayed a clear reduction of peak expiratory flow (PEF) over the working shift. CONCLUSIONS: Though their average exposure to organic solvents was low, the graffiti removers reported significantly higher prevalence of unspecific symptoms such as fatigue and headache as well as irritative symptoms from the eyes and respiratory tract, compared with the controls. To prevent adverse health effects it is important to inform the workers about the health risks, and to restrict use of the most hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, it is important to develop good working practices and to encourage the use of personal protective equipment.
OBJECTIVE: The principal aim of the study was to estimate the level of exposure to organic solvents of graffiti removers, and to identify the chemicals used in different cleaning agents. A secondary objective was to inform about the toxicity of various products and to optimise working procedures. METHODS: Exposure to organic solvents was determined by active air sampling and biological monitoring among 38 graffiti removers during an 8-h work shift in the Stockholm underground system. The air samples and biological samples were analysed by gas chromatography. Exposure to organic solvents was also assessed by a questionnaire and interviews. RESULTS: Solvents identified were N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP), dipropylene glycol monomethyl ether (DPGME), propylene glycol monomethyl ether (PGME), diethylene glycol monoethyl ether (DEGEE), toluene, xylene, pseudocumene, hemimellitine, mesitylene, ethylbenzene, limonene, nonane, decane, undecane, hexandecane and gamma-butyrolactone. The 8-h average exposures [time-weighted average (TWA)] were below 20% of the Swedish permissible exposure limit value (PEL) for all solvents identified. In poorly ventilated spaces, e.g. in elevators etc., the short-term exposures exceeded occasionally the Swedish short-term exposure limit values (STEL). The blood and urine concentrations of NMP and its metabolites were low. Glycol ethers and their metabolites (2-methoxypropionic acid (MPA), ethoxy acetic acid (EAA), butoxy acetic acid (BAA), and 2-(2-methoxyethoxy) acetic acid (MEAA)) were found in low concentrations in urine. There were significant correlation between the concentrations of NMP in air and levels of NMP and its metabolites in blood and urine. The use of personal protective equipment, i.e. gloves and respirators, was generally high. CONCLUSIONS: Many different cleaning agents were used. The average exposure to solvents was low, but some working tasks included relatively high short-term exposure. To prevent adverse health effects, it is important to inform workers about the health risks and to restrict the use of the most toxic chemicals. Furthermore, it is important to develop good working procedures and to encourage the use of personal protection equipment.