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Sci Total Environ. 2011 Jan 15;409(4):686-91. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.10.049.

Assessment of DNA damage in coal open-cast mining workers using the cytokinesis-blocked micronucleus test and the comet assay.

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Laboratorio de Investigación Biomédica y Biología Molecular, Universidad del Sinú, Montería, Córdoba, Colombia.


Coal mining is one of the most important causes of environmental pollution, as large quantities of coal dust particles are emitted. Colombia-South America has large natural coal reserves and "El Cerrejón" is the world's largest open-cast mine located in the northern department of Guajira. The aim of the present study was to evaluate genotoxic effects in a population exposed to coal residues from the open-cast mine "El Cerrejón". 100 exposed workers and 100 non-exposed control individuals were included in this study. The exposed group was divided according to different mining area activities: (i). Transport of extracted coal, (ii). Equipment field maintenance, (iii). Coal stripping and, (iv). Coal embarking. Blood samples were taken to investigate biomarkers of genotoxicity, specifically, primary DNA damage as damage index (DI), tail length and% of tail DNA using the Comet assay (alkaline version) and chromosome damage as micronucleus (MN) frequency in lymphocytes. Both biomarkers showed statistically significantly higher values in the exposed group compared to the non-exposed control group. No difference was observed between the exposed groups executing different mining activities. These results indicate that exposure to coal mining residues may result in an increased genotoxic exposure in coal mining workers. We did not find a correlation between age, alcohol consumption and service time with the biomarkers of genotoxicity. Our results are the first data of genotoxic effects induced by coal mining exposure in Colombia, and thus, contribute to the exploration of test batteries use for monitoring of exposed populations and may stimulate designing control, hygiene and prevention strategies for occupational health risk assessment in developing countries.

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