DNA Damage Heightened Among Petrol Station Attendants, Research Finds
Masters research has shown that DNA damage is heightened among attendants at petrol stations.
The work was done by Dr Mpho Makwela who completed her Master’s in Medicine (Occupational Medicine) with a thesis titled: “Occupational Benzene Exposure and Genotoxicity Among eThekwini Municipality Petrol Attendants in 2011”.
Makwela explained that when lead was banned in petrol, chemical concentrations of benzene had been increased in fuel to hike the octane level.
Occupational exposure to petrol is considered a health hazard as benzene has carcinogenic and mutagenic effects on human health and benzene is categorised as a group 1 carcinogen, a substance directly involved in causing cancer.
Makwela’s research aimed to determine if there had been increased DNA damage among petrol attendants compared to the control group, which contained UKZN office workers without chemical exposures.
In this observational analytic cross sectional study, petrol attendants from 10 filling stations in the eThekwini Municipality were analysed at a mobile environmental monitoring station which was available to collect volatile organic compounds emissions. Their interviews where validated on questionnaires and blood samples were taken – a method of detecting DNA damage. Benzene biomarkers were taken from each petrol attendant, with Benzo (a) pyridol being the marker of exposure.
Makwela’s study, supervised by Professor NR Naidoo, searched for a correlation between benzene occupational exposure and albumin addicts Benzo-oxide and 1.4 Benzoquinone levels and this was correlated to the length of the DNA, which resembled a comet tail as a measure of DNA damage.
It was found that the petrol attendants had much greater damage in their DNA compared to those of the controls.
Makwela is an Occupational Medicine Specialist working at the National Department of Health at the Medical Bureau for Occupational Disease. In her spare time she enjoys reading and going to the gym.