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Etzel, R. A. and Ashley, D.L. Volatile Organic Compounds in the Blood of Persons in Kuwait During the Oil Fires. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 1994; 66: 125-129.

Studied in 1991 were employees of the U.S. Army working in Kuwait City (about 20 kilometers from burning oil wells) in May (Group I) and firefighters and medical personnel who worked at the sites of burning wells in October (Group II). Participants completed questionnaires and provided blood samples right after the end of a typical work day. Blood samples from participants in a U.S. health survey were also collected (US Group). Blood was analyzed for concentrations of 6 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (benzene, ethylbenzene, m-/p-xylene, o-xylene, styrene, and toluene) via mass spectrometry. Compared to the US Group, median VOC concentrations were higher in Group II and lower in Group I. Among the cigarette smokers in Group II, concentrations of benzene and toluene were significantly higher than among non-smokers. The authors conclude that exposure to VOCs was higher near the burning oil wells than in Kuwait City. Although this study did not measure air concentrations of VOCs, the authors cite data from other investigators who measured higher concentrations near the oil wells. The authors note that the half-life of VOCs in blood is less than 4 hours, so measured levels reflect exposures that occurred over only the past one day. Limitations of the study: study subjects may not be representative of all Americans in Kuwait at the time of the oil fires; study subjects were volunteers, a possible source of selection bias; the two groups were sampled at different times in 1991; the samples were taken at one point in time and results can not be extrapolated to describe long term exposure levels for persons in Kuwait; the results can not be used to assess potential health effects from exposure to VOCs in Kuwait.

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