DNA damage and repair detected by the comet assay in lymphocytes of African petrol attendants: a pilot study

03 February 2010

Petrol attendants are exposed to petrol volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which may have genotoxic and carcinogenic effects. The single-cell gel electrophoresis assay (comet assay) is a method highly sensitive to DNA damage induced by environmental and occupational exposure to carcinogenic and mutagenic agents. The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of exposure of petrol attendants to petrol VOCs and also to determine their effect on DNA damage and repair in lymphocytes of African petrol attendants. The exposed group consisted of 20 subjects, randomly selected from three petrol stations. A control group of 20 unexposed subjects was also chosen and matched for age and smoking habits with the exposed group. Sorbent tubes were used to assess personal exposure of petrol attendants. The comet assay was used to investigate the basal DNA damage and repair capacity in isolated lymphocytes of petrol attendants and unexposed subjects. Blood samples were taken from the petrol attendants at the end of their 8-h working shift and also from the unexposed subjects. The petrol attendants were found to be exposed to levels of petrol VOCs lower than the South African occupational exposure limit for constituent chemicals. A significant relationship was found between the volume of petrol sold during the shift and the average concentrations of benzene, toluene and the total VOCs measured. However, relative humidity had a negative correlation with the average concentrations of benzene, toluene, xylene and the total VOCs. Significantly higher basal DNA damage was observed with the exposed group compared to the unexposed group. The period of exposure influenced the level of DNA damage and the calculated repair capacity. Smoking and age had a significant influence on the level of DNA damage. DNA repair capacity was delayed in smokers of both exposed and unexposed group