Diseases Caused by Hexane

1. Introduction and Definitions

Hexane is a colorless, volatile liquid with a mild odor, commonly used as a solvent in various industrial and commercial applications. It is primarily found in gasoline, adhesives, and cleaning agents. Chronic exposure to hexane can lead to significant health issues, particularly affecting the nervous system. This article provides comprehensive information on diseases caused by hexane, targeting occupational health nurses and doctors.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Hexane exposure occurs primarily through inhalation of its vapors, though it can also be absorbed through the skin or ingested. In industrial settings, hexane is used in processes such as extraction, cleaning, and as a solvent in manufacturing. The primary health concern related to hexane exposure is its neurotoxic effects, which can lead to peripheral neuropathy.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of hexane exposure, including:

  • Manufacturing Workers: Involved in the production of adhesives, paints, and coatings.
  • Printing Workers: Using hexane-based solvents in the printing process.
  • Furniture and Shoe Production Workers: Using hexane in adhesives for assembling products.
  • Automotive Workers: Exposed to hexane in cleaning agents and solvents.
  • Chemical Plant Workers: Handling hexane in various chemical processes.
  • Agricultural Workers: Using hexane-based pesticides.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of diseases caused by hexane exposure can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure:

  • Acute Exposure: Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Severe acute exposure can lead to central nervous system depression, characterized by drowsiness, confusion, and unconsciousness.
  • Chronic Exposure: Long-term exposure can cause peripheral neuropathy, presenting as numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and loss of coordination in the extremities. Chronic exposure can also lead to more severe neurological damage and potential respiratory issues.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing diseases caused by hexane involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Neurological Evaluation: Including tests for motor function, sensory function, and reflexes to assess peripheral neuropathy.
  • Electromyography (EMG) and Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS): To evaluate the electrical activity of muscles and the conduction of nerves.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measuring hexane metabolites, such as 2,5-hexanedione, to assess exposure.
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: To assess respiratory function if symptoms suggest respiratory involvement.

6. Treatment

Treatment for diseases caused by hexane focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of hexane exposure is crucial.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing medications to manage neurological symptoms, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. Physical therapy may be recommended to help with muscle strength and coordination.
  • Supportive Care: Including hydration, rest, and monitoring of respiratory and neurological function.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor neurological health and overall health status.

7. Prevention

Preventing diseases caused by hexane involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation, enclosed processes, and proper maintenance of equipment to reduce airborne exposure to hexane vapors.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of hexane-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where hexane is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate respirators, protective clothing, and gloves.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including neurological assessments and monitoring of hexane metabolites in blood and urine for workers exposed to hexane.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of hexane and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

Workplace Exposure Limits:

  • OSHA PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit):

    • Time-Weighted Average (TWA): 500 ppm (1800 mg/m³).
  • NIOSH REL (Recommended Exposure Limit):

    • TWA: 50 ppm (180 mg/m³).