Issue 5, 2004

Assessing workplace chemical exposures: the role of exposure monitoring


Occupational exposure is the condition of being subjected through employment to a chemical, physical, or biological agent, or to a specific process, practice, behavior, or organization of work. Exposure to a chemical agent is typically the contact of that agent with the outer boundary of a subject, such as the respiratory system, skin, or digestive system. In occupational hygiene we are most concerned with exposure through the respiratory system, although, increasingly we are concerned with the results of dermal exposures, including those exposures to the skin that can be transferred to the mouth and digestive system. This presentation will detail methods available for assessing personal exposures to chemicals through monitoring. The results from monitoring can then be compared to established guidelines and regulations, although this is not the only rationale for making measurements. These monitoring methods are currently used around the world to establish the benchmark hazard from which risk to the worker can be predicted. The presentation will describe the general techniques for assessing exposures to the respiratory system from chemical gases and vapors, chemical dusts, and exposures to the skin from bulk chemicals or chemical contamination of surfaces. For respiratory exposures, direct-reading instruments are available for spot measurements, and for monitoring short-term fluctuations in concentration. However, most standards and regulations are based on time-integrated (time-weighted average) exposures, requiring longer-term integrative methods. Therefore, the specific focus of this review will be the methods available for full work-shift sampling. For gases and vapors this will include taking whole-air samples in canisters or polymer bags, or concentration of chemicals by absorption in liquids or adsorption on solid sorbents, with subsequent chemical analysis. Chemical concentration can take place by pumping air through the sorbing media, or by allowing molecules to diffuse to the sorbent surface. Transfer of the collected chemicals to the analytical instrumentation can be accomplished using solvent displacement and injection, or through the application of heat to bring the collected molecules back into the vapor phase. For particles, the particle size is important as this determines the site of deposition in the lungs, and so time-integrated sampling on filters using various types of size-selective samplers is preferred. Finally, some techniques that have been used to assess the potential for chemical contamination of the skin are presented. Biomonitoring is another tool that can be used to assess exposure, and the results are more relevant to dosimetric considerations than exposure. Biomonitoring is a complex subject worthy of a separate review, and will be considered only briefly here.

Article information

Article type
Tutorial Review
13 Nov 2003
17 Feb 2004
First published
11 Mar 2004

J. Environ. Monit., 2004,6, 404-412

Assessing workplace chemical exposures: the role of exposure monitoring

M. Harper, J. Environ. Monit., 2004, 6, 404 DOI: 10.1039/B314697A

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