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Cite this document
Occupational exposure of the skin to toxic chemicals is a recognized health problem. The magnitude of the problem is evidenced by the fact that dermatitis is the major occupational disease in the United States. Perhaps more important, the occurrence of a dermatitis of unknown etiology may be indicative of a more serious and insidious systemic exposure. Very little research has been published on the significance of dermal exposures as they relate to the incidence of occupational disease from toxic chemicals. This is evidenced by the lack of any published standards or recommendations for “safe” levels of skin exposure to most toxic chemicals.
The majority of workers having a potential for skin contact with hazardous materials are protected by utilizing some form of chemically resistant clothing or gloves. These applications range from simple latex gloves to totally encapsulating suits. However, the selection, use, and maintenance of these protective garments have largely been determined empirically. More important, the commonly accepted belief that most rubber garments are “impermeable” has been recently dispelled through the development and use of standard resistance tests by ASTM and others. It is now known that most chemical protective clothing has some level of permeation to toxic chemicals. Additionally, a steady-state rate of release, with the garment base material acting as a toxic reservoir, is possible. The author has termed this phenomenon “matrix release.” The question therefore arises, “What is an acceptable level of dermal exposure?” Obviously, many variables will distinguish the level of risk to the worker. These include the toxicity of the chemical or chemicals, permeability through the skin, location of the exposure site, rate and extent of contact, synergistic or additive effects of other routes of exposure, and other factors. Confounding the evaluation of an acceptable level of skin exposure to toxic chemicals are the pragmatic questions of the effects of reuse, situations requiring entry into atmospheres in which no dermal contact is acceptable, and the potential effects of garment failure.
Pragmatically, the previously discussed assessment criteria must be scrutinized within cost/benefit constraints. These constraints, plainly expressed, could be the choice between using a $2 glove that leaks a little or a $12 glove that leaks a little less.
This paper suggests a need for 1) a series of recommended dermal exposure levels within the framework of atmospheric exposure limits and 2) a field-validated method to measure exposure quantitatively inside the protective garment or glove.
chemical protective clothing, exposure assessment, decontamination, skin exposure, protective clothing, protective gloves, chemical protective clothing testing, chemical skin exposures, matrix release
Principle health scientist, S. Z. Mansdorf & Associates, Cuyahoga Falls, OH