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28 November 2014

Québec: Gender differences in work-related exposure

Researchers have completed one of the first gender analyses of occupational exposure to chemicals. Using epidemiological data from two studies - one on lung cancer, one on breast cancer – covering 1,657 men and 2,073 women in the Montreal area in the late 1990s, they estimated and compared the proportion and exposure levels to 243 toxic substances for men and women by occupation.

Men are more exposed at work to vehicle exhaust fumes, petroleum fractions (recovered petroleum constituents in a distillation column), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dust from building materials, and abrasive dust, while women are more exposed to fabric dust, textile fibres, ammonia, formaldehyde, and other aliphatic aldehydes. These exposure profiles are consistent with those of a New Zealand study published in 2011.

But most of these relative share exposure differences are eliminated when occupation is factored in. A study of some 4,269 points of comparison for men’s and women’s exposure within the same occupational group revealed that only 3.1% showed marked gender differences for which there was no obvious explanation.

The conclusion is that stratified gender analyses are needed to gain a clearer view of gender differences in exposure and occupational diseases, says France Labrèche, lead author of the study and epidemiologist with the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST).

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