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Biological surveillance of workers exposed to dimethylformamide and the influence of skin protection on its percutaneous absorption


Two studies were carried out among workers exposed to dimethylformamide (DMF) in an acrylic fiber factory. The first study involved 22 exposed workers and 28 control workers. Blood was examined at the beginning and at the end of a working week for the presence of biological signs of liver dysfunction. Pre- and post-shift urine samples were also collected during 1 week for determination of N-methylformamide (NMF) concentration. The airborne concentration of DMF was determined at different work places during the same period. On prevention of direct skin contact with DMF solution a significant correlation was found on a group basis between the concentration of DMF vapor and the NMF concentration in post-shift urine samples. When the concentration of NMF in post-shift urine samples from a group of workers does not exceed 30 mg/g creatinine, then their integrated exposure is probably below 60 mg/m3 × h (10 mg/m3 for 6 h). This exposure appears to be safe with regard to the risk of liver damage but does not necessarily preclude episodes of alcohol intolerance in some workers.

During a second study, NMF concentrations in pre- and post-shift urine samples were followed-up in seven workers during three weeks when different personal protective devices were used. In an acrylic fiber factory, skin absorption was found to be more important than inhalation in the overall exposure to the solvent when no personal protective devices were used. The use of impermeable gloves with long sleeves appears to be the best method of preventing skin absorption of DMF. Silicone or glycerol barrier creams are less effective and should not be recommended.

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Correspondence to R. R. Lauwerys.

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Lauwerys, R.R., Kivits, A., Lhoir, M. et al. Biological surveillance of workers exposed to dimethylformamide and the influence of skin protection on its percutaneous absorption. Int. Arch Occup Environ Heath 45, 189–203 (1980). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00380783

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Key words

  • Dimethylformamide
  • N-methylformamide
  • Acrylic fiber
  • Biological monitoring
  • Skin absorption
  • Barrier creams