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Toxicol Lett. 2004 Mar 14;148(1-2):113-23.

Distribution and disposition of benzalkonium chloride following various routes of administration in rats.

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Department of Legal Medicine, Shimane University School of Medicine, 89-1 Enya, Izumo, Shimane 693-8501, Japan.


Benzalkonium chloride (BZK) is a cationic surfactant used widely as a disinfectant, preservative and sanitizer in hospitals, at home and many public places. The toxicity of BZK is not well established although several human fatalities have been reported over the years. In this study, distribution and disposition of BZK following oral administration (PO) and intravascular (jugular vein (JV), femoral artery (FA), femoral vein (FV) and jugular artery (JA)) administration in rats were investigated along with pathological examinations. Toxic doses of 250 and 15 mg/kg of BZK were used for PO and intravascular administration, respectively. The fatal effects of BZK appeared soon in JV-, FV- or JA-rats, but took hours in PO or FA-rats. No rat receiving BZK via FA survived longer than 1 day. The PO-rats that aspirated BZK into their lungs had some systemic symptoms and higher blood and tissue concentrations of BZK. The blood BZK levels and kinetics were similar among the different routes of intravascular administration, but the lung and kidney levels were higher in JV-rats. Pathological examinations confirmed severe congestion and edema in the lungs and kidneys. These results suggest that (1) the toxic effects of BZK varied depending on the route of administration, (2) the degree of toxicity correlated with peak blood and tissue concentrations in orally dosed rats, (3) different toxicological progressions and manifestations were observed in FA- and JV-dosed rats even though these groups had similar blood concentration profiles, and (4) lung and kidney are reservoirs for BZK and considered to be the target organs of BZK.

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