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Worker Exposure to Isocyanates (TDI, MDI, HDI) Found in Paints, Coatings, Resins and Insulations

If you need worker exposure evaluation to isocyanates (TDI, MDI, HDI) found in paints, coatings, resins, and insulations discussed in this article, call us at 1-800-344-4414 or e-mail us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP
February 18, 2020

Worker Exposure to Isocyanates (TDI, MDI, HDI) Found in Paints, Coatings, Resins and Insulations

The health effects of exposure to isocyanates include asthma, skin rashes/dermatitis, irritation of mucous membranes (eyes, nose, and throat) and chemical bronchitis. The most common commercial isocyanates are the diisocyanates—toluene diisocyanate (TDI), methylene bisphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) and hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI).

These isocyanates are generally used to make rigid and durable surface coatings as a substitute for oil/solvent-based paints and coatings. They also have applications in insulation foams, wire coatings, adhesives, and rubber-like compounds.

Danger Related To Isocyanates Exposure

The greatest danger related to isocyanate exposure is an acute respiratory attack similar to an asthmatic attack. Equally important is that when an individual becomes sensitized to an isocyanate, they cannot tolerate levels even far lower than what caused the initial reaction. Often sensitized individuals cannot work around the isocyanates at all—even minute amounts like walking into a paint store or getting into a newly painted car. It is estimated that 5% or more industrial workers exposed to increased isocyanates (TDI, MDI, HDI) will develop respiratory sensitization essentially eliminating them from the work activity that caused the initial exposure.

Control and Prevention

Because of the potential for isocyanate sensitization, the best control is the prevention of any exposure—certainly not above the following limits:

OSHA Ceiling Limits (No Exposure Above This Level)

MDI – 0.02 ppm

TDI – 0.02 ppm

NIOSH Recommended Limit for Isocyanates

HDI – 0.005 ppm REL (Recommended Exposure Limit) – 8 hours

MDI – 0.005 ppm REL – 8 hours

TDI – Lowest Feasible Concentration

ACGIH Recommended Limits

TDI – 0.001 ppm – 8 hours

0.005 ppm – STEL (15 minutes)

MDI – 0.005 ppm – 8 hours

HDI – 0.005 ppm – 8 hours

As mentioned above, the best approach is the prevention of any detectable worker exposure—especially TDI which is considered the most toxic of the commonly available diisocyanates used in industry. The most common isocyanate is MDI and does not appear to be as virulent a sensitizer as TDI. HDI appears to cause fewer problems than TDI or MDI.

We recommend monitoring of workers very soon after the introduction of an isocyanate in the workplace and at regular intervals thereafter, (OSHA usually recommends every 3 years), and when there is any change in the process.

This information should be communicated to employees as part of the OSHA required annual Hazard Communication Training (29CFR1910.1200).

Employees may also wear respiratory protection on a voluntary basis—as long as the EMPLOYER makes sure that it is the proper respirator (Voluntary Use of Respiratory Protection is outlined in Appendix D of the Respiratory Protection Standard 29CFR1910.134).

Monitoring of potential isocyanates exposure to workers should be performed by an Industrial Hygienist and samples analyzed by an AIHA Accredited Laboratory.

If you need further assistance, call or e-mail us at 800-344-4414 or info@atlenv.com. Feel free to use our online form.

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