Dermal exposure and skin barrier function of workers exposed to copper sulphate at a chemical industry
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Copper exposure is known to be a rare cause of skin irritation and allergic reactions and according to our knowledge occupational dermal exposure to copper sulphate has not yet been characterised. As a result, the objectives of this study were to assess the dermal exposure of workers at a chemical industry to copper sulphate and to characterise the change in the their skin barrier function from before to the end of the work shift, as the skin’s barrier function can greatly influence the permeation of chemical substances. Methods: The change in skin barrier function of reactor workers, crystal and powder packaging workers at the chemical industry were assessed by measuring their dominant hand’s palm, back and wrist as well as their foreheads’ skin hydration, transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and skin surface pH before and at the end of the work shift. Commercial GhostwipesTM were used to collect dermal exposure samples from the same four anatomical areas before and at the end of the shift. Additional dermal exposure samples were collected from the palm and back of hand, prior to breaks 1 and 2. Surface wipe sampling was also conducted at several work and recreational areas of the chemical industry. Wipe samples were analysed by an accredited analytical laboratory, according to NIOSH method 9102 by means of Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectrometry. Results: Changes in skin hydration of the workers and anatomical areas at the end of the work shift were highly variable, while in general TEWL increased and skin surface pH decreased. Copper was collected from the skin of all workers before the shift commenced, and dermal exposure increased throughout the work shift. All of the work and recreational areas from which surface samples were taken, were contaminated with copper. Conclusion: As a result of intermittent use of inadequate protective gloves and secondary skin contact with contaminated surfaces and work clothing, workers at the chemical industry are exposed to copper sulphate via the dermal exposure route. The decrease in the workers’ skin barrier function (increased TEWL) and skin surface pH is most likely the result of their dermal exposure to sulphuric acid, and may lead to enhanced dermal penetration. The low account of skin irritation or reaction incidences among these workers is contributed to their ethnicity as well as to the low sensitisation potential of copper. Recommendations on how to lower dermal exposure and improve workers’ skin barrier function are made.
- Health Sciences