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Isocyanates – What They Are and Why You Should Look Out For Them

Isocyanates Monitoring – What It Is and Why It’s So Crucial To Look Out For


What are Isocyanates?

Isocyanates are a family of highly reactive chemicals with a low molecular weight. They are powerful irritants to the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts as well as the mucous membranes of the eyes, and can also cause inflammation of the skin.

Why should Isocyanates be monitored?

Isocyanates are found in a huge variety of industry materials, primarily paints, foams and glues. They are among the main causes of occupational asthma in the UK according to the Health and Safety Executive. Exposure to them must necessarily be limited as much as is practicable through the use of respiratory protective equipment.

Occupational asthma can result in very poor health and can have a huge impact on the lives of those who suffer from it. These affects can range from the changing of a job to stop their symptoms getting worse all the way to lung failure. That said, if adequate control measures are put in place then this condition is preventable. Biological monitoring is the most affective way to ensure that your place of work is adequately protected.

Where are Isocyanates used?

Isocyanates use is ubiquitous within industry, and can be commonly found in spray paints, foams, polyurethane manufacture and in adhesives. In particular, workers in the automotive industry are very much at risk, especially those who work in motor vehicle repair (MVR).

Isocyanates are extremely prevalent in the following:

  • Two-pack spray paints (e.g. hexamethylene diisocyanate, HDI).
  • Some glues and hard wearing plastics (e.g. toluene diisocyanate, TDI).
  • Making, cutting, grinding or heating polyurethane foams (e.g. methylene diphenylene diisocyanate, MDI).
  • Production of polyurethane paints, varnishes and elastomers (e.g. isophorone diisocyanate, IPDI).


In order to mitigate the levels of occupational asthma, exposure to isocyanates needs to be kept to a minimum, as even brief encounters can cause sensitisation. Once this has been done, even low level exposure can cause an asthma attack.


Why use Biological Monitoring for Isocyanates?

Biological monitoring is useful for ascertaining the exact level of chemical in a person’s body, rather than how much is in the workplace environment. For this reason, it’s a far more accurate way to spot potential risk factors and to ensure that control measures are affective.


If you or someone you know is concerned that they may be at risk from exposure to isocyanates, please use the form below to get in touch with Healthscreen UK today. Alternatively, call 014555245743 to get in touch with one of our dedicated specialists.


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