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Understanding skin absorption of common aldehyde vapours from exposure during hazardous material incidents

Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology (2019) | Download Citation



The toxic release of aldehyde vapours during a hazardous material (HAZMAT) incident primarily results in respiratory concerns for the unprotected public. However, skin absorption may be an important concurrent exposure route that is poorly understood for this scenario. This study provides experimental data on the skin absorption properties of common aldehydes used in industry, including acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzaldehyde and formaldehyde, in gaseous or vapour form using an adapted in vitro technique. Two of the four tested aldehydes were found to penetrate the skin in appreciable amounts following 30-min exposure at HAZMAT relevant atmospheric concentrations: acetaldehyde (5.29 ± 3.24 µg/cm2) and formaldehyde (3.45 ± 2.58 µg/cm2). Whereas only low levels of acrolein (0.480 ± 0.417 µg/cm2) and benzaldehyde (1.46 ± 0.393 µg/cm2) skin penetration was noted. The aldehydes demonstrated differing levels of interaction with fabric. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde adsorbed strongly to denim, whereas benzaldehyde and acrolein displayed no sink properties. However, denim was shown to be an initial protective barrier and reduced penetration outcomes for all aldehydes. This study provides important information to assist first responders and confirms the relevance of using physicochemical properties (e.g. solubility, molecular weight, partition coefficient) to predict skin permeation potential in the absence of empirical data during HAZMAT incidents involving different types of aldehydes.

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This work was supported by the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, Department of Defence, US Government under the counterterrorism funding scheme (Grant No. CB-4433).

Author information


  1. Occupational and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

    • Leigh Thredgold
    • , Sharyn Gaskin
    • , Linda Heath
    •  & Dino Pisaniello
  2. Research and Scientific Branch, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

    • Michael Logan
  3. Emergency Response TIPS, LLC, Alexandria, VA, USA

    • Christina Baxter


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Sharyn Gaskin.

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