Comparison between blood and urinary toluene as biomarkers of exposure to toluene

S. Fustinoni, M. Buratti, R. Giampiccolo, G. Brambilla, V. Foà, A. Colombi

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Objectives: To compare blood toluene (TOL-B) and urinary toluene (TOL-U) as biomarkers of occupational exposure to toluene, and to set a suitable procedure for collection and handling of specimens. Method: An assay based on headspace solid-phase microextraction (SPME) was used both for the determination of toluene urine/air partition coefficient (λ(urine/air)) and for the biological monitoring of exposure to toluene in 31 workers (group A) and in 116 non-occupationally exposed subjects (group B). Environmental toluene (TOL-A) was sampled during the work shift (group A) or during the 24 h before specimen collection (group B). Blood and urine specimens were collected at the end of the shift (group A) or in the morning (group B) and toluene was measured. Results: Toluene λ(urine/air) was 3.3 ± 0.9. Based on the specimen/air partition coefficient, it was calculated that the vial in which the sample is collected had to be filled up to 85% of its volume with urine and 50% with blood in order to limit the loss of toluene in the air above the specimen to less than 5%. Environmental and biological monitoring of workers showed that the median personal exposure to toluene (TOL-A) during the work-shift was 80 mg/m3, the corresponding TOL-B was 82 μg/l and TOL-U was 13 μg/l. Personal exposure to toluene in environmentally exposed subjects was 0.05 mg/m3, TOL-B was 0.36 μg/l and TOL-U was 0.20 μg/l. A significant correlation (P <0.05) was observed between TOL-B or TOL-U and TOL-A (Pearson's r = 0.782 and 0.754) in workers, but not in controls. A significant correlation was found between TOL-U and TOL-B both in workers and in controls (r = 0.845 and 0.681). Conclusion: The comparative evaluation of TOL-B and TOL-U showed that they can be considered to be equivalent biomarkers as regards their capacity to distinguish workers and controls and to correlate with exposure. However, considering that TOL-U does not require an invasive specimen collection, it appears to be a more convenient tool for the biological monitoring of exposure to toluene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-396
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Biological monitoring
  • Blood
  • Exposure
  • Toluene
  • Urine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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