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Behavior of aluminum in aluminum welders and manufacturers of aluminum sulfate—impact on biological monitoring

Vesa Riihimäki, Sinikka Valkonen, Bernt Engström, Antti Tossavainen, Pertti Mutanen and Antero Aitio
Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health
Vol. 34, No. 6 (December 2008), pp. 451-462
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40967743
Page Count: 12
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Behavior of aluminum in aluminum welders and manufacturers of aluminum sulfate—impact on biological monitoring
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Abstract

Objectives The suitability of determining aluminum in serum or urine as a form of biological monitoring was critically assessed. Methods Airborne and internal aluminum exposure was assessed for 12 aluminum welders in a shipyard and 5 manufacturers of aluminum sulfate. Particles were characterized with X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy. Aluminum in air and biological samples was analyzed using electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry. Basic toxicokinetic features were inferred from the data. Results The mean 8-hour time-weighted average concentration of aluminum was 1.1 (range 0.008–6.1) mg/m³ for the shipyard and 0.13 (range 0.02–0.5) mg/m³ for the aluminum sulfate plant. Welding fume contained aluminum oxide particles <0.1 µm in diameter and their agglomerates, whereas bauxite and aluminum sulfate particles ranged from 1 to 10 µm in diameter. The shipyard welders' mean postshift serum and urinary concentrations of aluminum (S-Al and U-Al, respectively) were 0.22 and 3.4 µmol/l, respectively, and the aluminum sulfate workers' corresponding values were 0.13 and 0.58 µmol/l. Between two shifts, the welders' S-Al concentration decreased by about 50% (P<0.01), but their U-Al concentration did not change (P= 0.64). No corresponding temporal changes occurred among the aluminum sulfate workers. After aluminum welding at the shipyard had ceased, the median S-Al concentration decreased by about 50% (P=0.007) within a year, but there was no change (P=0.75) in the corresponding U-Al concentration. Conclusions About 1% of aluminum in welding fume appears to be rapidly absorbed from the lungs, whereas an undetermined fraction is retained and forms a lung burden. A higher fractional absorption of aluminum seems possible for aluminum sulfate workers without evidence of a lung burden. After rapid absorption, aluminum is slowly mobilized from the lung burden and dominates the S-Al and U-Al concentrations of aluminum welders. For kinetic reasons, S-Al or U-Al concentrations cannot be used to estimate the accumulation of aluminum in the target organs of toxicity. However, using U-Al analysis to monitor aluminum welders' lung burden seems practical.

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