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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Minnesota: New Testing Method Helps Protect Workers — and Their Skin — from Harmful Chemicals

People who work in labs, factories and other workplaces are at risk for developing potentially serious skin allergies to the chemicals they use and encounter on the surfaces they touch. The allergies can be so severe that workers may develop chronic skin conditions and, at times, be forced to abandon their careers. But how can employers know that their workplace housekeeping measures are working and how can work areas be easily tested to protect employees? 

Researchers including assistant professor Dr. Susan Arnold from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health are answering these questions with a new method they developed to set quantitative limits for a test that measures the presence of chemicals on surfaces, providing an objective way to verify the cleanliness of surfaces.

The approach, co-developed by Dr. Arnold and her toxicology colleague Dr. Bruce Naumann from BD NAUMANN LLC, is explained in an article published in the journal Toxicology and Industrial Health.  

The researchers used published chemical potency data and knowledge of related safety factors to develop surface wipe limits, which are quantitative thresholds for how much of the chemical could be within a 100 centimeter-squared surface area. The limits are calculated for use with a wipe test, where the surface of a work area is wiped in a prescribed way with a special cloth or swab that is sent to a lab to determine how much chemical it holds. Workplace safety professionals can use the limits and wipe test together to objectively evaluate and determine if surfaces are ‘clean’ or contaminated based on these objective benchmarks.

To aid in using the method, Drs. Arnold and Naumann employed the approach to create a table of proposed surface wipe limits for common sensitizers.

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