BACKGROUND: Fluoride is used increasingly in a variety of industries in India. Emission of fluoride dust and fumes from the smelters of primary aluminum producing industries is dissipated in the work environment and poses occupational health hazards.
OBJECTIVE: To study the prevalence of health complaints and its association with fluoride level in body fluids of smelter workers in a primary aluminum producing industry.
METHODS: In an aluminum industry, health status of 462 smelter workers, 60 supervisors working in the smelter unit, 62 non-smelter workers (control group 1) and 30 administration staff (control group 2) were assessed between 2007 and 2009. Their health complaints were recorded and categorized into 4 groups: 1) gastro-intestinal complaints; 2) non-skeletal manifestations; 3) skeletal symptoms; and (4) respiratory problems. Fluoride level in body fluids, nails, and drinking water was tested by an ion selective electrode; hemoglobin level was tested using HemoCue.
RESULTS: The total complaints reported by study groups were significantly higher than the control groups. Smelter workers had a significantly (p<0.001) higher urinary and serum fluoride level than non-smelter workers; the nail fluoride content was also higher in smelter workers than non-smelter workers (p<0.001). The smelter workers with higher hemoglobin level had a significantly (p<0.001) lower urinary fluoride concentration and complained less frequently of health problems. Only 1.4% of the smelter workers were consuming water with high fluoride concentrations. A high percentage of participants was using substances with high fluoride contents.
CONCLUSION: Industrial emission of fluoride is not the only important sources of fluoride exposure–consumption of substance with high levels of fluoride is another important route of entry of fluoride into the body. Measurement of hemoglobin provides a reliable indicator for monitoring the health status of employees at risk of fluorosis.