Perceived odor and irritation of isopropanol: a comparison between naive controls and occupationally exposed workers

M.A.M. Smeets, P. Dalton

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    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Objectives. To assess sensory irritation levels from isopropanol (IPA) unconfounded by subjective evaluations of odor for comparison against the recommended exposure limits (400 ppm threshold limit value (TLV); American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists). Method. The lateralization method was used to assess intra-nasal irritation thresholds for IPA, while odor detection thresholds were also measured. Thresholds for 1-butanol and phenyl ethyl alcohol (PEA) were obtained as positive and negative irritant controls. To compare potency and hedonic characteristics, subjects provided subjective ratings of odor, irritation and annoyance intensity for three concentrations of each chemical. Workers occupationally exposed to IPA (n=26) were compared with previously unexposed controls (n=26). Results. The (geometric) mean odor detection threshold for IPA was slightly higher among exposed workers than controls (39 ppm vs. 11 ppm). Lateralization thresholds measuring intra-nasal irritation were elevated when compared with controls (6,083 ppm in exposed workers vs. 3,361 ppm in naïve controls), with a significantly higher proportion of phlebotomists being unable to lateralize the maximum concentration regarded as safe, than controls. Calculations of the 6th percentile for lateralization thresholds revealed that 95% of the sample did not experience sensory irritation below 512 ppm. Thus, while odor detection thresholds were well below the current recommended exposure limits, the irritation thresholds were well above these values. The odor, irritation and annoyance from IPA was perceived, on average, as between weak and almost strong, from lowest to highest concentration. Conclusions. The results indicate that current exposure guidelines would be adequately protective of the acute adverse effect of nasal sensory irritation, as operationally defined by the intra-nasal lateralization threshold. Exposures to higher concentrations should perhaps be evaluated on the basis of existing knowledge about systemic, rather than local (e.g., irritation), toxic effects. IPA appears to be a weak sensory irritant and occupational exposure to IPA appears to elicit small changes in sensitivity that do not generalize to other odorants (e.g., PEA and 1-butanol) and are likely to be reversible
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)541-548
    JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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