Gordon Purdie

seminar13-g-purdie2After Dianne read though all the studies and their advice, Gordon says Dianne thought the evidence was strong enough to leave her career as a medical cytologist.

He found many studies showing an increased risk of scleroderma amongst solvent workers. Because scleroderma is rare, Gordon says, that the link needs to be studied with “case-control” studies.

He found at least 11 such studies into solvent exposure from 1989 to 2004. All found that people with scleroderma were more likely to have worked with solvents than those who did not have scleroderma. Averaged, they showed the risk of contracting scleroderma by working with solvents was between 2 and 3 times greater than for those who did not work with solvents. Several of the studies showed that the more people work with solvents the more likely they are to get scleroderma.

Gordon says the evidence is strong that exposure through work to solvents makes people susceptible to scleroderma. Even removing results from 3 questionable studies still produces a relative risk of 2.1 greater likelihood.

Gordon gave the example of a South Australian woman, Yvonne Hazeal, who was sprayed accidentally with a weedkiller, Tordon 50D, which contains a solvent. Within days she developed scleroderma-like symptoms and was confirmed with it in a few years.

Gordon’s conclusion: it looks like solvents cause scleroderma.

Minimising solvent exposure has little cost and is probably risk free. Although there is no evidence, Gordon says, that it is possible that by avoiding solvent exposure your health might be better than if you don’t.
They are difficult to avoid as they’re used in petrol, beauty products, nail polish and remover, hair dye and even alcohol is classed as an organic solvent. Wellington Regional Council found the following airborne solvents when it tested air quality at Seaview: Toluene, xylene, benzene, ethylbenzene, pentane, trichloroethene, 2-butanone, 1,3,5-trimethylbenzene, acetone, hexane, n-propylbenzene, trichlorofluoromethane.

In summary, Gordon told the seminar:

  • There is good evidence that solvents cause scleroderma
  • No evidence on whether or not avoiding solvents will help if you have scleroderma
  • Very difficult to avoid solvent exposure