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Case Study

Occupational exposure to airborne nicotine during production of vaping fluids

The Client

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)


The Problem

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 processes.




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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