Tetrachloroethylene is the dominant solvent used in dry cleaning worldwide and many workers are potentially exposed. We report here on results of 1296 measurements of tetrachloroethylene undertaken in Nordic dry cleaning shops 1947-2001.
We searched documents and files in the Nordic institutes of occupational health for air measurements of tetrachloroethylene. Repeated measurements from the same facility during a short time interval were registered only once using the time-weighted average. We registered also changes over time in occupational exposure limits (OELs) to tetrachloroethylene.
Only scattered measurements were available from the early years, and the exposure level seemed fairly stable up until the mid 1970s. The median exposure level was 20 p.p.m. in 1976 and decreased to 3 p.p.m. in 2000. Exposure levels in the four Nordic countries followed similar trends. In the late 1960s, the OELs varied between the Nordic countries from 30 to 100 p.p.m. Sweden was first to lower the limit, but limits gradually converged over time. At present, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden use 10 p.p.m., while Norway uses 6 p.p.m. Over time, the average observed exposure level was lower than the OEL in all countries, but in Denmark and Sweden, up to one-third of measured exposures exceeded the OEL. Overall, the stationary measurements for maintenance work showed 36 p.p.m., while the personal measurements showed 7.5 p.p.m. for dry cleaners and 6.25 p.p.m. for shop assistants.
The Nordic data illustrate that it is possible over time to control chemical exposures even in an industry consisting of many small and scattered work places.