Author(s): Roels HA, Ortega Eslava MI, Ceulemans E, Robert A, Lison D
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Abstract In 1987, a cross-sectional study in a dry-alkaline battery plant in Belgium revealed subclinical neurobehavioral dysfunctions associated with inhalation exposure to manganese dioxide (MnO2) particulate. The overall geometric mean of the time-weighted average concentration of manganese (Mn) in "total" dust (MnT) amounted, at that time, to 1 mg Mn/m3 and the duration of exposure was 5.5 years on average. An 8-year longitudinal investigation was conducted in this cohort (n = 92) in order to find out whether early effects on eye-hand coordination (EHC), hand steadiness (HST), and simple visual reaction time (VRT) were reversible when the airborne manganese concentration at the workplace was abated. During the observation period from 1988 to 1995, MnT monitoring was implemented on a monthly basis producing more than 1300 personal air samples, EHC tests were given yearly to assess the precision of the hand-forearm movement (PN1), and HST and VRT tests were carried out yearly since 1991. By the end of the study, the cohort size had dropped to 34 subjects. The model of unbalanced repeated measurements with unstructured covariance matrix and a time-varying covariate (log MnT) was the most appropriate to analyze the data. Wald chi 2 statistic was used for testing time-trends. The reduction of MnT over time was significantly associated with an improvement of the PN1 values (total cohort: Wald chi 2 = 8.5, p = 0.004; beta log MnT = -6.098 +/- 2.096). Like in the total cohort, time-trends were also found in the three exposure subgroups which could be identified in the cohort (average MnT over 1987-1992 were about 400, 600, and 2000 micrograms Mn/m3 for the low, medium, and high exposure subgroups, respectively). Only in the low exposure subgroup the PN1 value normalized when MnT (provisional estimates) decreased from about 400 to 130 micrograms Mn/m3 by the end of the study. Solely the reduction in MnT explained these findings on PN1, while a "healthy-worker-effect" mechanism was unlikely to have operated. The prognosis for the medium and high exposure subgroups remains uncertain as the improvement of their EHC performance may have been affected by past MnO2 exposure to such an extent that the persistence of a partial loss of EHC ability is suggested. The time courses of the HST and VRT test results, however, indicated the absence of any improvement, suggesting irreversible impairment of hand stability (postural tremor) and simple visual reaction time. A separate examination in a group of 39 control subjects, re-tested 10 years after the first test in 1987, virtually precluded age as confounding factor in this prospective study. The findings of the longitudinal study are corroborated by the outcome of a separate follow-up study in a group of 24 ex-Mn employees, who showed in 1996 a significant improvement of eye-hand coordination after at least three years with no MnO2 exposure; as to HST and VRT, there was no significant change in the deficit of these two neurobehavioral markers.
This article was published in Neurotoxicology
and referenced in Journal of Drug Metabolism & Toxicology