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Exposure assessment of toxicologically relevant volatile organic compounds emitted from polymer-based costume masks

: Even, Morgane; Roloff, Alexander; Lüttgert, Nils; Beauchamp, Jonathan; Stalter, Daniel; Schulte, Agnes; Hutzler, Christoph; Luch, Andreas


Chemical research in toxicology 34 (2021), Nr.1, S.132-143
ISSN: 0893-228X (Print)
ISSN: 1520-5010 (Online)
Fraunhofer IVV ()

Plastic costume masks regularly exhibit unpleasant odors that may be associated with the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Upon inhalation, VOCs might adversely affect the wearer’s health if the exposure exceeds regulatory threshold values. The VOCs emitted from a selection of costume masks (n = 12) were characterized semiquantitatively with a screening method based on GC/MS measurements in dynamic headspace sampling mode. Furthermore, odors associated with the masks were evaluated by a sensory panel. Two masks emitted particularly high concentrations of ethylbenzene, xylenes, and cyclohexanone and exhibited the most intense and unpleasant odors, which were described as rubber-like, pungent, and leather-like. To simulate and assess the inhalation exposures for wearers of these masks, an innovative experimental setup based on a doll’s head was developed, with sampling of emitted volatiles on adsorption material and subsequent analysis by thermal desorption–GC/MS. The measured inhalable concentrations of cyclohexanone exceeded the derived no-effect level (DNEL) for systemic effects on the general population over several hours of wearing, and also after repeated use. Importantly, the cyclohexanone DNEL was reevaluated in relation to a recent study on inhalation toxicity in rodents and was found to be significantly lower (1.4 mg·m–3) compared to the industry-derived values (10–20 mg·m–3), thus aggravating the health risks associated with inhalation exposure from some of the costume masks tested. Finally, a comparison of the inhalable concentrations derived from the simulated exposure assessments with those derived from measurements in miniaturized emission test chambers indicate that microchambers represent a useful tool for high-throughput analysis. The influences of temperature and inhalation/exhalation flow rates on VOC exposures were also studied.