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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The Relationship of Liver Function Tests to Mixed Exposure to Lead and Organic Solvents

Won-Joon Chang1, Kyu-Tak Joe1, Hye-Young Park2, Jong-Do Jeong3* and Duk-Hee Lee4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Dankook University Hospital, Cheonan, South Korea

2 Graduate School of Public Health, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, South Korea

3 Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Pohang Sunlin Hospital, Pohang, South Korea

4 Department of Preventive Medicine and Health Promotion Research Center, School of Medicine, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, South Korea

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Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2013, 25:5  doi:10.1186/2052-4374-25-5

Published: 21 May 2013



This study aims to compare liver function indices (aspartate aminotransferase [AST], alanine aminotransferase [ALT], and gamma glutamyl transferase [GGT]) among males who work with lead, organic solvents, or both lead and organic solvents, under the permissible exposure limit (PEL).


A total of 593 (out of 2,218) male workers who agreed to share their personal health information for medical research were selected for this study. Those excluded were hepatitis B carriers, individuals exposed to occupational risk factors other than lead and organic solvents, and individuals without liver function results. The 593 were divided into five groups: a lead-exposed group, an organic solvent-exposed group exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE co-exposed solvent group), an organic solvent-exposed group not exposed to trichloroethylene (TCE non-exposed solvent group), a lead and organic solvent-exposed group (mixed exposure group), and a non-exposed group (control group).

We performed a one way-analysis of variance (one way-ANOVA) test to compare the geometric means of liver function indices among the groups, using a general linear model (GLM) to adjust for age, work duration, body mass index (BMI), smoking, and alcohol intake. In addition, we performed a binary logistic regression analysis to compare the odds ratios among groups with an abnormal liver function index, according to a cut-off value.


The ALT and AST of the mixed exposure group were higher than those of the other groups. The GGT of the mixed exposure group was higher than the TCE co-exposed solvent group, but there was no difference among the control group, TCE non-exposed solvent group, lead-exposed group, and mixed exposure group. The same result was evident after adjusting by GLM for age, work duration, BMI, smoking, and alcohol intake, except that ALT from the mixed exposure group showed no difference from the TCE co-exposed solvent group.

When the cut-off values of the AST, ALT, and GGT were 40 IU/L, 42 IU/L, and 63 IU/L, respectively, a logistic regression analysis showed no differences in the odds ratios of those who had an abnormal liver function index among the groups. However, if the cut-off values of the AST, ALT, and GGT were 30 IU/L, 30 IU/L, and 40 IU/L, respectively, the odds ratio of the AST in the mixed exposure group was 4.39 (95% CI 1.86-10.40) times higher than the control.


This study indicates that a mixed exposure to lead and organic solvents is dangerous, even if each single exposure is safe under the permissible exposure limit. Therefore, to ensure occupational health and safety in industry, a continuous efforts to study the effects from exposure to mixed chemicals is needed.

Exposure; Lead; Solvents