Background: Workers on dredgers and lighters on rivers are potentially exposed to a variety of substances.
Aims: To determine the internal load of heavy metals and arsenic as well as levels of cytogenetic markers in workers exposed to river silt aerosols.
Methods: One hundred exposed workers were examined up to eight times within three years. Additionally, 100 control workers were studied once. Blood samples were analysed for lead, mercury, and cadmium. Additionally, micronuclei frequency and sister chromatid exchange (SCE) rates were determined. Urinary samples were analysed for cadmium, mercury, nickel, chromium, and arsenic. Information on potential confounders, such as smoking habits and consumption of fish were assessed.
Results: Apart from some increased concentrations of mercury in blood (maximum 14.6 µg/l) and arsenic in urine (maximum 356.5 µg/l) all measurements were within reference values. None of the exposure and effect markers were found to be significantly increased in exposed workers compared to non-exposed controls. In multiple linear regression models, mercury levels in blood as well as the concentration of arsenic in urine were strongly related to fish consumption. Cadmium levels in blood as well as urinary cadmium concentrations were strongly related to smoking habits. After adjusting for smoking habits, SCE rates were associated with cadmium levels in blood.
Conclusion: Increased exposure levels or enhanced levels of cytogenetic markers were not found in workers exposed to river silt aerosols. However, cadmium exposure in blood was related to SCE frequency.