Biomonitoring and work related symptoms among garbage handling workers
Torben Sigsgaard 1  
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Steno Center of Public Health, Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
Danish Working Environment Service, Copenhagen, Denmark
Ann Agric Environ Med 1997;4(1):107–112
This cross sectional study of recycling workers was planned to identify adverse health effects of modern waste handling including recycling of materials from household waste. The study-group comprised 40 garbage handling, 8 composting, 20 paper sorting workers from all over Denmark and 119 drinking water supply workers from Copenhagen served as controls. Earlier we have described the respiratory tract, mucosal, and eye symptoms. This paper describes the skin and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as the concentrations of trace elements in the blood from recycling workers. Among garbage handling workers 13.6% experienced irritation of the skinmore than once a month, compared to none among the controls, p < 0.05. The odds ratio OR (95% CI) for itching of the skin more than once a year was raised to 3.78 (1.46–9.8) in the garbage handling workers. The OR for ever having experienced vomiting or diarrhoea in relation to work was 7.51 (1.17–48.1) and 7.30 (2.50–21.3) among the composting and the garbage handling workers, respectively. The concentrations of trace element in this study were all within normal ranges. We found a higher cadmium blood concentration of 3.09 (1.80) μg/l (mean (SD)) among the garbage handling workers vs. 1.29 (3.36) μg/l among the controls, p < 0.05. This increase in Cd levels among garbage handling workers might stem from exposure to batteries in the waste. In all groups the Cd concentration was higher among smokers compared to non-smokers. Probably as a consequence of routine machine repair work, the controls had significantly higher lead concentrations of 56.2 (28.8) μg/l vs. 40.8 (36.1) μg/l and 37.2 (23.3) μg/l among the composting and the garbage handling workers, respectively. This study emphasises the need to address the working environment in recycling facilities handling organic material.
Torben Sigsgaard   
Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Aarhus University, Building 180, Universitetsparken, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark