Colour vision and contrast sensitivity losses of mercury intoxicated industry workers in Brazil

We evaluated vision loss in workers from fluorescent lamp industries (n = 39) who had retired due to intoxication with mercury vapour and had been away from the work situation for several years (mean = 6.32 years). An age-matched control group was submitted to the same tests for comparison. The luminance contrast sensitivity (CSF) was measured psychophysically and with the sweep visual evoked potential (sVEP) method. Chromatic red–green and blue–yellow CSFs were measured psychophysically. Colour discrimination was assessed with the Farnsworth–Munsell 100-hue test, Lanthony D-15d test and Cambridge Colour Vision Test. Patient data showed significantly lower scores in all colour tests compared to controls (p < .001).

The behavioural luminance CSF of the patients was lower than that of controls (p < .001 at all frequencies tested). This result was confirmed by the electrophysiologically measured sweep VEP luminance CSF except at the highest frequencies—a difference that might be related to stimulus differences in the two situations. Chromatic CSFs were also statistically significantly lower for the patients than for the controls, for both chromatic equiluminant stimuli: red–green (p < .005) and blue–yellow (p < .04 for all frequencies, except 2 cycles per degree (cpd), the highest spatial frequency tested) spatial gratings. We conclude that exposure to elemental mercury vapour is associated with profound and lasting losses in achromatic and chromatic visual functions, affecting the magno-, parvo- and koniocellular visual pathways.

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