Study: Ozone-Saving Solvent Causes Nerve Damage

Isn't it ironic and tragic? An industrial solvent adopted to help save the ozone layer could be poisoning workers.

Workers exposed to 1-bromopropane (1-BP), an industrial solvent that was introduced to replace chemicals that depleted the ozone layer, are suffering from extensive and debilitating nerve damage, according to a new study.

In a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association held in Toronto last week, Dr. Jennifer J. Majersik of the University of Utah described the cases of six employees who worked in a factory gluing foam cushions together. The spray adhesives they used contained 1-BP. All six employees developed nerve damage, including muscle weakness and spasms and leg and foot pain, to the point were most of the employees had difficulty walking and two employees remained severely disabled more than a year after exposure to 1-BP. All but one employee continues to complain of chronic pain.

Air monitoring conducted one day after use of the solvent was stopped found air concentrations of 130 parts per million (ppm) of 1-BP. EPA recommends an acceptable exposure limit of 25 ppm for 1-BP.

Majersik said poor ventilation and a lack of maintenance on equipment in the factory were to blame for the high levels of 1-BP. The exposures occurred in winter while the heater in the factory was broken. Because it contributed to the cold, the employees had turned off the fan that would have exhausted the 1-BP vapors.

"1-BP is highly volatile so it is easily breathed in and it is probably also absorbed in the skin so it requires a lot of ventilation," noted Majersik.

Groups of workers in North Carolina and China who were also using glue containing 1-BP reported nerve damage similar to the case presented by Majersik.

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