Exposures and urinary biomonitoring of aliphatic isocyanates in construction metal structure coating



Isocyanates are highly reactive chemicals used widely in metal structure coating applications in construction. Isocyanates are potent respiratory and skin sensitizers and a leading cause of occupational asthma. At present, there is no cure for isocyanate asthma and no biomarkers of early disease. Exposure reduction is considered the most effective preventive strategy. To date, limited data are available on isocyanate exposures and work practices in construction trades using isocyanates, including metal structure coatings.


The primary objectives of this work were: i) to characterize isocyanate inhalation and dermal exposures among painters during metal structure coating tasks in construction; and ii) to assess the adequacy of existing work practices and exposure controls via urinary biomonitoring pre- and post-shift.


Exposures to aliphatic isocyanates based on 1,6-hexamethylene diisocyanate (1,6-HDI) and its higher oligomers (biuret, isocyanurate and uretdione) were measured among 30 workers performing painting of bridges and other metal structures in several construction sites in the Northeastern USA. Exposure assessment included simultaneous measurement of personal inhalation exposures (n = 20), dermal exposures (n = 22) and body burden via urinary biomonitoring pre- and post-shift (n = 53). Contextual information was collected about tasks, processes, materials, work practices, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and exposure controls, work histories, and environmental conditions.


Breathing zone concentrations were the highest for biuret (median, 18.4 ?g/m3), followed by 1,6-HDI monomer (median, 3.5 ?g/m3), isocyanurate (median, 3.4 ?g/m3) and uretdione (median, 1.7 ?g/m3). The highest exposures, measured during painting inside an enclosed bridge on a hot summer day, were: 10,288 ?g/m3 uretdione; 8,240 ?g/m3 biuret; and 947 ?g/m3 1,6-HDI. Twenty percent of samples were above the NIOSH ceiling exposure limit for 1,6- HDI (140 ?g/m3) and 35% of samples were above the UK-HSE ceiling for total isocyanate group (70 ?g NCO/m3). Isocyanate loading on the gloves was generally high, with a median of 129 ?g biuret/pair and maximum of 60.8 mg biuret/pair. The most frequently used PPEs in the workplace were half-face organic vapor cartridge (OVC) respirators, disposable palmar dip-coated polymer gloves, and cotton coveralls. However, 32% of workers didn’t wear any respirator, 47% wore standard clothing with short-sleeve shirts and 14% didn’t wear any gloves while performing tasks involving isocyanates. Based on biomonitoring results, 58.4% of urine samples exceeded the biological monitoring guidance value (BMGV) of 1 ?mol hexamethylene diamine (HDA)/mol creatinine. Post-shift geometric mean HDA normalized to specific gravity increased by 2.5-fold compared to pre-shift (GM, 4.7 vs. 1.9 ng/mL; p value, < 0.001), and only 1.4-fold when normalized to creatinine.


Exposure and biomonitoring results, coupled with field observations, support the overall conclusions that (i) substantial inhalation and dermal exposures to aliphatic isocyanates occur during industrial coating applications in construction trades; that (ii) the current work practices and exposure controls are not adequately protective. High urinary creatinine values in the majority of workers, coupled with significant cross-shift increases and filed observations, point to the need for further investigations on possible combined effects of heat stress, dehydration, and nutritional deficiencies on kidney toxicity. Implementation of comprehensive exposure control programs and increased awareness are warranted in order to reduce isocyanate exposures and associated health risks among this cohort of construction workers.

Authors: Bello A, Xue Y, Gore R, Woskie S, Bello D
; Full Source: International journal of hygiene and environmental health. 2020 Feb 28;226:113495. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2020.113495. [Epub ahead of print]