Background: We sought to examine hearing loss in a group from the Royal Australian Air Force who undertook fuel tank maintenance on F-111 aircraft, with exposure to formulations containing ototoxins, relative to two different comparison groups. Methods: Using pure-tone audiometry, hearing thresholds were assessed in 614 exposed personnel, 513 technical-trade comparisons (different base, same job), and 403 non-technical comparisons (same base, different job). We calculated percentage loss of hearing (PLH) and used regression models to examine whether there was an association between PLH and F-111 fuel tank maintenance, adjusting for possible confounders. In addition, the difference between the observed hearing thresholds and the expected thresholds based on an otologically normal population (ISO-7029-2003) was determined. Results: The PLH ranged from nil to 96 (median 1.5, quartiles 0.3, 5.5). A logistic regression model showed no statistically significant difference in PLH among the three exposure groups (exposed vs. non-technical controls 1.1: 95% CI 0.7, 2.0 and exposed vs. technical OR 0.9: 95% CI 0.6, 1.3). The model also highlighted a number of other risk factors for PLH including age, tinnitus, smoking, depression, and use of depression medications. However, at all eight frequencies measured, all populations had lower than expected hearing thresholds based on published ISO-7029 medians. Conclusions: Although there was no difference in PLH between the three exposure groups, the study did reveal a high degree of hearing loss between the 3 groups and a normal population.
American Journal of Industrial Medicine Vol. 53, Issue 11, p. 1159-1169