Methyl isobutyl ketone and methyl ethyl ketone in urine as biological markers of occupational exposure to these solvents at low levels
Objective. To examine whether unmetabolized methyl isobutyl ketone in urine is a useful marker of low-level occupational exposure to this ketone solvent, as is the case for methyl ethyl ketone.
Methods. The study was conducted in the second half of a working week. In total, 27 furniture-making workers (19 men and eight women) and 11 non-exposed controls (six men and five women) volunteered to participate in the study. Time-weighted average (TWA; 8-h) concentration of vapors of several solvents in air, including methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK-A) and methyl ethyl ketone (MEK-A) was monitored by diffusive sampling. Urine samples collected at the end of the shift were subjected to head-space gas chromatography (GC) analysis for the unmetabolized solvents (i.e., MIBK-U and MEK-U). The relationship between the concentration of the solvent vapor and the corresponding solvent level in urine was examined by simple as well as multiple regression analysis.
Results. The exposures to MIBK and MEK were well below the current occupational exposure limit levels, but the maximum levels of exposure to toluene and ethylbenzene were around the corresponding exposure limit. The correlation of the TWA concentration of the solvent in air with the concentration of the corresponding solvent in the end-of-shift urine sample was significant both for MIBK and for MEK, and the correlation coefficient was larger for MIBK than for MEK. The slope in the exposure–excretion regression line was almost twice as steep for MEK than for MIBK, possibly due to the difference in water solubility. Approximately 0.12% of MIBK absorbed in the lungs will be excreted into urine, whereas the yield for MEK was somewhat higher (0.19%).
Conclusion. MIBK in urine is a good marker of exposure to MIBK, as in the case of MEK in urine for MEK exposure.
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