Solvents are generally classified as aliphatic or aromatic, and either type may be halogenated, most commonly with chlorine. The toxicity of representative sol vents is summarized in Table 7.6. Occupational exposure to solvents occurs in cleaning, degreasing, painting, and gluing. Exposure to solvents is generally through inhalation of vapors, although direct skin contact also occurs. The concentration of solvent in air is determined by the vapor pressure of the solvent, the ambient temperature, and the effectiveness of ventilation systems. These factors and the rate of pulmonary air exchange will affect the extent of exposure. Sniffing glue fumes is one form of substance abuse.
Solvents are generally lipid-soluble, and therefore they are readily absorbed across the skin. Once absorbed, they tend to concentrate in the brain, and CNS dysfunction is common at high exposures. Symptoms can range from confusion to unconsciousness. Solvents often undergo bioactivation and may cause systemic toxicity as a result of the formation of reactive intermediates.
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