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Does chronic occupational exposure to volatile anesthetic agents influence the rate of neutrophil apoptosis?PURPOSE: The purpose of this preliminary investigation was to determine whether the rate of neutrophil apoptosis in health care workers is influenced by exposure to volatile anesthetic agents. METHODS: Percentage neutrophil apoptosis (Annexin-V FITC assay) was measured in health care workers (n = 20) and unexposed volunteers (n = 10). For the health care workers, time weighted personal exposure monitoring to N2O, sevoflurane and isoflurane was carried out. RESULTS: The sevoflurane and isoflurane concentrations to which health care workers were exposed were less than recommended levels in all 20 cases. Percent apoptosis was less at 24 (but not at one and 12) hr culture in health care workers [50.5 (9.7)%; P = 0.008] than in unexposed volunteers [57.3 (5.1)%]. CONCLUSION: Inhibition of neutrophil apoptosis at 24 hr culture was demonstrated in health care workers chronically exposed to volatile anesthetic agents. Exposure was well below recommended levels in the both scavenged and unscavenged work areas in which the study was carried out. Further study is required to assess the effect of greater degrees of chronic exposure to volatile anesthetic agents on neutrophil apoptosis.