A new report indicates that three times as many workers in the D.C. Department of Public Works have low white cell counts -- which can be a sign of damage to the blood system -- as the larger population.
But Public Health Commissioner Georges C. Benjamin, after reviewing the report compiled by George Washington University Hospital last week, said there is no evidence of acute or serious blood disorders among the workers examined. "GW is going to look at this further," Benjamin said.
The department agreed to have about 200 of its employees examined after Stanley Taylor, who has leukemia, won a workers' compensation claim against the city in March showing a link between his illness and his on-the-job exposure to gasoline containing the chemical benzene.
Taylor, 40, worked with gasoline as a city mechanic responsible for maintaining trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment for more than 18 years. Two years ago he was found to have chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Another mechanic, Roosevelt Carter, 47, who worked in the same garages where Taylor worked, died Feb. 10. The cause of death, according to Providence Hospital, was chronic myelogenous leukemia.
None of the 184 city employees examined for the study, conducted for the city by the occupational and environmental medicine division of George Washington University Hospital, were found to have leukemia, said Laura Welch, director of the division.
Welch, the physician who coordinated the examinations, said that the test results do not clearly establish a relationship to benzene exposure because some of the workers found to have low white cell counts have little or no exposure to benzene in their jobs.
The workers with low white cell counts, she said, included those who have duties near incinerators, where there is no exposure to gasoline with benzene; those who work in fleet service, where there may be occasional exposure to gasoline with benzene; and the mechanics who work with gasoline containing benzene.
Altogether, about 17 percent of those examined were found to have low white cell counts, the report said. That means they had fewer than 4,500 white cells per milliliter of blood.
Nationally, about 5 percent of the black population has a low white cell count, and about 3 percent of the white population. Most of the workers examined were black.
The report also found that 40 workers had noise-related hearing losses. Nine of them had losses so severe that they have been referred for evaluations to determine if they need hearing aids.
Eight workers had scarring on their lungs, suggesting exposure to asbestos, the report said. Half of those workers are mechanics, who may have been exposed to asbestos in brake linings. The other four workers have duties near incinerators that may have processed trash containing asbestos.