Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1987;13(5):389-398    pdf


Assessment of concentration peaks in setting exposure limits for air contaminants at workplaces, with special emphasis on narcotic and irritative gases and vapors.

by Ulfvarson U

In various countries, concentration peaks of gaseous air contamination are assessed by a standard formula. Toxicologic data are not sufficient to warrant occupational short-term exposure limits for the majority of substances. In this article the literature on exposure to concentration peaks is reviewed, and the problem is analyzed from general toxicokinetic and physicochemical points of view. Several ways are suggested to achieve better standards. One straightforward and reasonably simple method is summarized in the following three points, which should be considered in the setting of occupational exposure limits: (i) For substances with fast or moderately fast action, only ceiling limits should be considered; (ii) when structure analogy is justified for narcotic and irritating gases, the correct way is to set the limits at the same thermodynamic activity (relative saturation) of the substances in question and not at the same concentration; (iii) for substances absorbed and eliminated slowly time-weighted exposure limits, combined with rules for excursions, or short-term exposure limits derived from such rules are appropriate, but the possible accumulation of large absolute quantities of the substances should be considered. This point is particularly important when the critical effect is narcosis or irritation, as the thermodynamic equipotency means that the effective concentration of water-soluble gases and vapors is higher than that of substances with low water solubility.