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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Phototoxic Reaction among Dock Workers -- Tennessee

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) investigated a cluster of phototoxic reactions among dock workers who transfer coal tar pitch and petroleum pitch (asphalt) to and from river barges in Memphis, Tennessee (1). Transfers of granular, unheated pitch are made once every 2-3 weeks, normally requiring two shifts of eight to 10 workers each.

Investigators visited the Memphis docks on August 20-21, 1981, to evaluate exposure to coal tar pitch, and on October 12-13, 1981, to evaluate exposure to petroleum pitch. Air samples from the area and from workers' personal breathing zones were taken to measure exposure to total and respirable pitch dust, benzene-soluble pitch, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PNA's) and organic vapors. Work practices and personal protective equipment were also evaluated, and a physician interviewed and examined 26 workers, 11 of whom had been exposed to pitch.

Air sampling data showed that concentrations of coal tar pitch (measured as benzene solubles) ranged from 0.05 to 1.47 mg/M((3)).* For asphalt dust, the highest measurement was 2.4 mg/M((3)).** Protective equipment (hard hats, goggles, gloves, disposable respirators, coveralls, hoods, etc.) used by the workers was considered adequate. However, deficiencies were noted in work practices, including improper use of goggles and failure to remove contaminated work clothing after exposure.

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