Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Sep 13;18(18):9639. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18189639.
Metals, such as lead, may be ototoxic, but this property is not well understood, especially in conjunction with noise. This cross-sectional study investigated hearing, noise, and metal biomarkers in informal electronic waste (e-waste) recycling workers in Accra, Ghana. Workers (N = 58) participated in audiometric testing, a survey, blood collection, and personal noise dosimetry. Sixty percent of participants displayed audiometric notches indicative of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Most workers (86%) reported high noise while working. Daily average noise levels were in the range 74.4-90.0 dBA. Linear regression models indicated participants who lived at Agbogbloshie Market for longer periods were significantly associated with worse hearing thresholds at 4 and 6 kHz. The models did not identify blood levels of lead, mercury, or cadmium as significant predictors of worse hearing thresholds or larger noise notches, but increased levels of selenium were significantly associated with better hearing at 6 kHz. Models of thresholds at 4 and 6 kHz were improved by including an interaction term between the maximum noise exposure and the level of zinc in whole blood, suggesting that zinc may protect hearing at lower noise levels, but not at higher levels. Further study of the relationships between elements, noise, and NIHL is needed.