Olfactory function in workers exposed to styrene in the reinforced-plastics industry

Pamela Dalton, Beverly Cowart, Daniel Dilks, Michele Gould, Peter S.J. Lees, Aleksandr Stefaniak, Edward Emmett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Background: Impairment of olfactory function in humans has been associated with occupational exposure to volatile chemicals. To investigate whether exposure to styrene was associated with olfactory impairment, olfactory function was examined in workers with a minimum of 4 years exposure to styrene in the reinforced-plastics industry (current mean exposure: 26 ppm, range: 10-60 ppm; historic mean dose: 156 ppm-years, range: 13.8-328 ppm-years) and in a group of age- and gender-matched, unexposed controls. Methods: Olfactory function was assessed using a standardized battery that included tests of threshold sensitivity for phenylethyl alcohol (PEA), odor identification ability, and retronasal odor perception. Odor detection thresholds for styrene were also obtained as a measure of specific adaptation to the work environment. Results: No differences were observed between exposed workers and controls on tests of olfactory function. Elevation of styrene odor detection thresholds among exposed workers indicated exposure-induced adaptation. Conclusions: The present study found no evidence among a cross-section of reinforced-plastics industry workers that current or historical exposure to styrene was associated with impairment of olfactory function. Taken together with anatomical differences between rodent and human airways and the lack of evidence for styrene metabolism in human nasal tissue, the results strongly suggest that at these concentrations, styrene is not an olfactory toxicant in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2003


  • Adaptation
  • Nasal effects
  • Occupational exposure
  • Olfactory function
  • Styrene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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