Objective: To determine if non-elite athletes undertaking short duration running exercise adjacent to a busy roadway experience increased blood levels of common pollutant volatile organic compounds (BTEX; benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene).
Design and Setting: The study was observational in design. Participants (9 males/1 female non-elite athletes) ran for 20 minutes, near a busy roadway along a 100 m defined course at their own pace. Blood levels of BTEX were determined both pre- and post-exercise by SPME-GC-MS. Environmental BTEX levels were determined by passive adsorption samplers.
Results: Subjects completed a mean (range) distance of 4.4 (3.4-5.2) km over 20 minutes [4.5(3.8-5.9) min/km pace], with a mean (SD) exercise intensity of 93 (2.3)% HRmax, and mean (SD) ventilation significantly elevated compared to resting levels [86.2 (2.3) versus 8.7 (0.9) l/min; p<0.001]. Mean (SD) environmental levels (time weighted average) were determined as 53.1 (4.2), 428 (83), and 80.0 (3.7) µg/m3 for toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes respectively, while benzene was below the detectable limit due to the short exposure period. Significant increases in blood BTEX levels were observed in runners between pre- and post-exercise for toluene (mean increase of 1.4 ng/ml; p=0.002), ethylbenzene (0.7 ng/ml; p=0.0003), m/p-xylene (2.0 ng/ml; p=0.004), and o-xylene (1.1 ng/ml; p=0.002), however, no change was observed for benzene.
Conclusions: Blood BTEX levels are increased during high intensity exercise such as running undertaken in areas with BTEX pollution, even with a short duration of exercise. This may have health implications for runners who regularly exercise near roadways.
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