Occupational exposure to airborne nicotine during production of vaping fluids
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
HSE wanted to investigate the potential for occupational
exposure to airborne nicotine in workplaces mixing and bottling
vaping fluid products for e-cigarettes. These products typically
contain around 1 - 2% nicotine, together with various flavouring
compounds, dissolved in a carrier liquid such as propylene glycol
or glycerol. Nicotine is a highly toxic substance which, in Great
Britain, has been assigned an 8-hour time-weighted average
Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) of just 75 ppb (parts per billion).
Workplace monitoring at such low concentrations requires a highly
sensitive and selective measurement method.
What We Did
HSE analytical chemists developed a measurement method for
airborne nicotine concentrations that was both highly sensitive and
easy to use. This method involved collection of pumped air samples
onto sorbent tubes spiked with a suitable internal standard. The
exposed samples were then analysed by thermal desorption and gas
chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Using this technique,
limits of detection for airborne nicotine of less than 0.1 ppb
could be achieved. If required, the method can also be used to
detect and measure airborne concentrations of the various
flavouring compounds added to the vaping fluids.
HSE occupational hygienists visited two workplaces and, using
the method described above, collected a number of personal and
static air samples to assess the potential for occupational
exposure to airborne nicotine during the mixing and bottling
Measurable concentrations of airborne nicotine were
detected at both sites. Airborne concentrations of nicotine at one
site were noticeably higher than at the other, but none of the
samples collected at either site showed airborne nicotine
concentrations of greater than 30 ppb (or around 40% of the WEL).
If the two sites visited are representative of the industry as a
whole, these results provided HSE with evidence that the risk of
occupational exposure to nicotine by inhalation in this type of
business is generally very low (but not zero).
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