RICHLAND, Wash. -- When workers believe they have been exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job, they often must provide a sample of blood or urine and wait three weeks or more to learn their fate. A breath-analyzing device developed at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory eases the uncertainty by providing immediate results of chemical exposure using a non-invasive technique.
The Exposure-to-Risk Monitoring System determines within minutes the amount and type of chemical a worker has been exposed to and how much of that chemical has found its way inside the person. The system makes its determination by tracking how much of a chemical is exhaled.
"It's ideal for emergency response situations," said Pacific Northwest staff scientist Karla Thrall. "Workers have peace of mind knowing what happened and whether they should be concerned. Managers know immediately if they need to control the area for environmental risks to prevent further exposure."
Pacific Northwest researchers created the monitoring system by coupling its technology with a commercial mass spectrometer and an exhaled breath analysis device developed by Battelle, which operates Pacific Northwest for DOE.
The system uses physiologically based pharmacokinetic, or PBPK, mathematical models to translate exposure levels into the amount of internal dose received and the resulting health risk. The PBPK model describes how a compound gets into the body, where it goes within the body, how it breaks down and how it leaves the body.
The monitoring system improves on existing industrial hygiene tools in several ways. Its relatively small size -- approximately 70 pounds -- allows it to be used on-site or taken to an emergency situation, such as a chemical spill. The PBPK modeling also considers a person's physiology -- height, weight and body fat -- to determine better how chemicals distribute in individuals.