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Long-term loss of color vision after exposure to mercury vapor

We evaluated the color vision of 24 subjects (41.6 ± 6.5 years; 6 females) who worked in fluorescent lamp industries. They had been occupationally exposed to mercury vapor (10.6 ± 5.2 years) and had been away from the source of exposure for 6.4 ± 4.04 years. Mean urinary concentration of mercury was 40.6 ± 36.4 µg/g creatinine during or up to 1 year after exposure and 2.71 ± 1.19 µg/g creatinine at the time of color vision testing or up to 1 year thereafter. All patients were diagnosed with chronic mercury intoxication, characterized by clinical symptoms and neuropsychological alterations. A control group (N = 36, 48.6 ± 11.9 years, 10 females, 1.5 ± 0.47 µg mercury/g creatinine) was subjected to the same tests.

Inclusion criteria for both groups were Snellen VA 20/30 or better and absence of known ophthalmologic pathologies. Color discrimination was assessed with the Farnsworth D-15 test (D-15) and with the Lanthony D-15d test (D-15d). Significant differences were found between the two eyes of the patients (P < 0.001) in both tests. Results for the worst eye were also different from controls for both tests: P = 0.014 for D-15 and P < 0.001 for D-15d. As shown in previous studies, the D-15d proved to be more sensitive than the D-15 for the screening and diagnosis of the color discrimination losses. Since color discrimination losses were still present many years after the end of exposure, they may be considered to be irreversible, at least under the conditions of the present study.