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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2012 Mar;9(3):868-79. doi: 10.3390/ijerph9030868. Epub 2012 Mar 13.

Assessment of exposure to alcohol vapor from alcohol-based hand rubs.

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Environmental and Health Research Laboratory (LERES), U 1085 Institute of Research in Environmental and Occupational Health (IRSET), Advanced School of Public Health (EHESP), Avenue du Professeur Léon Bernard, 35043 Rennes, France.


This study assessed the inhaled dose of alcohol during hand disinfection. Experiments were conducted with two types of hand rub using two hand disinfection procedures. Air samples were collected every 10 s from the breathing zone, by bubbling through a mixture of K(2)Cr(2)O(7) and H(2)SO(4). The reduction of dichromate ions in the presence of alcohols was followed by UV-vis spectrophotometry. The difference in intensity of the dichromate absorption peak was used to quantify the alcohol concentration expressed in ethanol equivalent. During hygienic hand disinfection, the mean ethanol equivalent concentrations peaked at around 20-30 s for both hand rubs (14.3 ± 1.4 mg/L for hand rub 1 and 13.2 ± 0.7 mg/L for hand rub 2). During surgical hand disinfection, two peaks were found at the same time (40 and 80 s) for both hand rubs. The highest mean concentrations were 20.2 ± 0.9 mg/L for hand rub 1 and 18.1 ± 0.9 mg/L for hand rub 2. For hand rub 1, the total absorbed doses, calculated from ethanol with an inhalation flow of 24 L/min and an absorption rate of 62%, were 46.5 mg after one hygienic hand disinfection and 203.9 mg after one surgical hand disinfection. Although the use of ABHRs leads to the absorption of very low doses, sudden, repeated inhalation of high alcohol concentrations raises the question of possible adverse health effects.


UV-visible spectrophotometry; alcohol-based hand rubs; healthcare workers; inhalation exposure; passive alcoholization

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