The aromatic hydrocarbon styrene is an important basic chemical for the chemical industry. Styrene is the parent substance used to manufacture polystyrene, as well as being employed as a solvent and reactant for unsaturated polyester resins and varnishes. On account of its characteristics, it is possible for the substance to cause both acute and chronic damage to the human nervous system. Since employees can come into contact with styrene in numerous areas of work and a great many different activities, their exposure to the substance has to be monitored.
Until now workers’ exposure to styrene has been assessed by measuring residues of the substance in urine. However, the residues detected in this kind of biomonitoring can also be metabolites of other hazardous substances. By contrast, the styrene concentration in exhaled air is a characteristic marker of styrene exposure.
The breath sampling required for the determination of styrene concentrations enjoys high levels of acceptance among employees, who are able to take samples and send them away for testing independently. This may make it easier to deploy biomonitoring, particularly in smaller businesses. To date, though, this measurement parameter has not been validated under field conditions, and there have not been any analytical laboratory techniques suitable for routine application.
This project developed an analytical method for the measurement of styrene in exhaled air that is fundamentally well suited for routine occupational medical biomonitoring thanks to its simplicity and its high degree of technical automation. The samples are taken with BAuA Type gas sampling tubes. After the styrene has been enriched by means of solid-phase microextraction (SPME), which is carried out directly in the gas sampling tubes, gas chromatography is used to analyse the extract. This method is just as precise and accurate as the biomonitoring methods utilised to measure residues in urine hitherto.
Unit 4.2 "Health Surveillance, Biological Monitoring"