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Am J Ind Med. 1997 May;31(5):558-69.

Perceived odor, irritation, and health symptoms following short-term exposure to acetone.

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Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


The subjectivity of irritancy judgments can bias attempts to establish exposure guidelines that protect individuals from the sensory irritation produced by volatile chemicals. At low to moderate chemical concentrations, naive and occupationally exposed individuals often show considerable variation in the reported levels of perceived irritation. Such variation could result from differences in exposure history, differences in the perceived odor of a chemical, or differences in generalized response tendencies to report irritation, or response bias. Thus, experimental evaluation of sensory irritancy must dissociate sensory irritation from response bias. To this end, judgments of perceived irritation from 800 ppm acetone were obtained from acetone-exposed workers and age- and gender-matched naive controls. To assess the role of response bias during exposure to odorants, subjects were also exposed to phenylethyl alcohol (PEA), an odorant that does not produce sensory irritation. Following exposure, subjects completed a subjective symptom survey that included symptoms that have been associated with long-term solvent exposures and symptoms that have not. Acetone-exposed workers and naive controls reported large differences in the perceived intensity of odor and irritation from acetone, yet no differences in the perception of PEA. However, for both groups, the most significant factors mediating reported irritancy and health symptoms from acetone were the perceived intensity of its odor and an individual's bias to report irritation from PEA. The perception of odor intensity and degree of response bias will differ between and within groups of exposed and naive individuals; hence, an assessment of the influence of these factors in experimental and workplace studies of chemical irritancy is warranted.

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