Exposure to benzene in a pooled analysis of petroleum industry case-control studies
Cases of lymphohematopoietic cancer from three petroleum industry cohorts, matched to controls from the respective cohort, were pooled into single study. Average benzene exposure was quantitatively estimated in ppm for each job based on measured data from the relevant country, adjusted for the specific time period, site and job exposure characteristics and the certainty of the exposure estimate scored. The probability of dermal exposure and of peak exposure was also assessed. Before risk was examined, an exposure estimate comparison and rationalisation exercise was performed across the studies to ensure accuracy and consistency of approach. This article evaluates the final exposure estimates and their use in the risk assessments.
Overall benzene exposure estimates were low: 90% of participants accumulated less than 20 ppm-years. Mean cumulative exposure was estimated as 5.15 ppm-years, mean duration was 22 years, and mean exposure intensity was 0.2 ppm. 46% of participants were allocated a peak exposure (>3 ppm at least weekly). 40% of participants had a high probability of dermal exposure (based on the relative probability of at least weekly exposure).
There were differences in mean intensity of exposure, probability of peak, and/or dermal exposure associated with job category, job site, and decade of exposure. Terminal Operators handling benzene-containing products were the most highly exposed group, followed by Tanker Drivers carrying gasoline. Exposures were higher around 1940–1950 and lower in more recent decades.
Overall confidence in the exposure estimates was highest for recently held jobs and for white-collar jobs. We used sensitivity analyses, which included and excluded case-sets on the basis of exposure certainty scores, to inform the risk assessment.
The above analyses demonstrated that the different patterns of exposure across the three studies are largely attributable to differences in jobs, site types, and time frames rather than study. This provides reassurance that the previous rationalisation of exposures achieved inter-study consistency and that the data could be confidently pooled.