Biomonitoring

A biological exposure index for ethanol has not been established by the ACGIH (ACGIH, 2000).

Ethanol is a chemical with an enormous range of uses and applications in industry, cosmetics and food. Industrial ethanol is synthesised from ethylene, but beverage alcohol is derived mainly from the fermentation of carbohydrates and supply for this purpose is not augmented by industrial ethanol. Ethanol is used in the synthesis of a huge variety of organic compounds, and is second only to water as an industrial solvent.

There are very few reports of adverse effects following occupational ethanol exposure by any route. Although exposure in the occupational setting is common, ethanol is not considered to be of great importance as an industrial hazard. Reports of chronic exposures to ethanol in the workplace have not shown an association with adverse health effects. In addition, specific links to ethanol exposure are hard to establish owing to the wide exposure to ethanol in the general population. The majority of adverse effects are reported following recreational and chronic ingestion of ethanol. These effects are outside the remit of this chapter, and will not be discussed further. However, it is important to note that recreational ingestion of ethanol can have implications for the workplace; ethanol can interact and alter the metabolism of other chemicals used in the occupational setting (Juntunen, 1982).

Ethanol is highly soluble in water and is rapidly absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract. Peak ethanol concentrations are seen after 30 to 120 minutes. The presence of food in the stomach or ingestion of a large quantity of ethanol may delay the absorption (Gibson et al., 1985; Baselt, 2000).

Lester and Greenberg (1951) found that in human volunteers exposed to ethanol, 62% of ethanol in the inspired air was absorbed. In the same study the authors calculated the absorption via the respiratory tract that would be necessary to cause a continuous increase in blood ethanol concentration. They concluded that a worker exposed to the occupational standard (in this study: 1.8 mg/l ethanol (958 ppm)) would have to breathe at a rate greater than 117 l/min. As a ventilation rate of 30 l/min is associated with hard work, the

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