Exposure to organic solvents used in dry cleaning reduces low and high level visual function

Ingrid Astrid Jiménez Barbosa, Mei Ying Boon, Sieu K. Khuu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: To investigate whether exposure to occupational levels of organic solvents in the dry cleaning industry is associated with neurotoxic symptoms and visual deficits in the perception of basic visual features such as luminance contrast and colour, higher level processing of global motion and form (Experiment 1), and cognitive function as measured in a visual search task (Experiment 2). Methods: The Q16 neurotoxic questionnaire, a commonly used measure of neurotoxicity (by the World Health Organization), was administered to assess the neurotoxic status of a group of 33 dry cleaners exposed to occupational levels of organic solvents (OS) and 35 age-matched non dry-cleaners who had never worked in the dry cleaning industry. In Experiment 1, to assess visual function, contrast sensitivity, colour/hue discrimination (Munsell Hue 100 test), global motion and form thresholds were assessed using computerised psychophysical tests. Sensitivity to global motion or form structure was quantified by varying the pattern coherence of global dot motion (GDM) and Glass pattern (oriented dot pairs) respectively (i.e., the percentage of dots/dot pairs that contribute to the perception of global structure). In Experiment 2, a letter visual-search task was used to measure reaction times (as a function of the number of elements: 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and 100) in both parallel and serial search conditions. Results: Dry cleaners exposed to organic solvents had significantly higher scores on the Q16 compared to non dry-cleaners indicating that dry cleaners experienced more neurotoxic symptoms on average. The contrast sensitivity function for dry cleaners was significantly lower at all spatial frequencies relative to non dry-cleaners, which is consistent with previous studies. Poorer colour discrimination performance was also noted in dry cleaners than non dry-cleaners, particularly along the blue/yellow axis. In a new finding, we report that global form and motion thresholds for dry cleaners were also significantly higher and almost double than that obtained from non dry-cleaners. However, reaction time performance on both parallel and serial visual search was not different between dry cleaners and non dry-cleaners. Conclusions: Exposure to occupational levels of organic solvents is associated with neurotoxicity which is in turn associated with both low level deficits (such as the perception of contrast and discrimination of colour) and high level visual deficits such as the perception of global form and motion, but not visual search performance. The latter finding indicates that the deficits in visual function are unlikely to be due to changes in general cognitive performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0121422
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


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