Chemistry International
Vol. 21, No.4, July 1999

1999, Vol. 21
No. 4 (July)
.. 40th Council Meeting
.. IUPAC Activities
.. Reports from Symposia
.. Highlights from the Web
.. Report of 1998 Accounts
.. New Books and Publications
.. Provisional Recommendations
.. Awards
.. Conference Announcements
.. Conferences

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New Books and Publications

New Publications from the
World Health Organization

Selected Chloroalkyl Ethers, Environmental Health Criteria, No. 201

This book evaluates the risks to human health and the environment posed by exposure to bis(2-chloroethyl) ether (BCEE), bis(chloromethyl) ether (BCME), and chloromethyl methyl ether (CMME). These three ethers, which are part of the large class of chloroalkyl ethers, are used as solvents and in several industrial processes, including the manufacture of polymers. BCEE is also used in the textile industry, as an intermediate in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, and as a soil fumigant, insecticide, and acaricide. While data on risks to the environment are limited, the report draws on a considerable body of evidence, from laboratory animals and epidemiological studies of exposed workers, indicating that BCME and CMME are potent human carcinogens.

A section on sources of these chemicals in the environment notes that BCEE may enter the environment as a by-product from the chlorination of waste streams containing ethylene or propylene, and as a contaminant in the fungicide metam-sodium. BCME and CMME are released, in small amounts, from industrial activities. Concerning environmental behavior, the report concludes that BCEE is rapidly volatilized from surface water, does not adsorb to soil or sediment, and may reach groundwater. The chemical may be persistent due to the relative stability of b-chloroalkyl ethers. The report found no evidence that BCEE bioaccumulates or biomagnifies to any significant extent. For BCME and CMME, evidence pointing to extremely short residence times supports the conclusion that levels in the environment are extremely low, if not nonexistent.

A section on sources of human exposure draws on limited data indicating that occupational exposure to BCEE may occur, via inhalation or dermal contact, in the dry cleaning and textile industries or during the processing of gum, lacquer, oil, paint, soap, and tar. For BCME and CMME, data suggest that occupational exposure may occur in laboratory and textile workers, and during the production of anion-exchange resins, selected organic chemicals, and polymers. In occupational settings where vapors of formaldehyde and hydrochloric acid coexist, BCME may form spontaneously in air. The report also found evidence that the general population may be exposed to BCME and CMME through the use of mosquito coils.

The most extensive section evaluates the large number of studies, in laboratory animals and in vitro test systems, conducted to assess toxic effects. BCEE is noted to be acutely toxic by the oral, inhalation, and dermal routes. Exposure via inhalation to high concentrations resulted in eye irritation and congestion, edema, and hemorrhage in the lungs. Inhalation of BCME resulted in irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, and necrotizing bronchitis. Exposure to CMME produced similar effects. In vitro testing for mutagenicity produced positive results for all three chemicals. In carcinogenicity studies, animals exposed to BCME showed a significantly elevated incidence of pulmonary adenomas and respiratory tumors. Studies of CMME toxicity have shown increased incidence of tracheal metaplasia and bronchial hyperplasia in a dose-dependent manner.

The evaluation of effects on human health concentrates on evidence of an increased risk of lung cancer demonstrated in eight epidemiological studies of workers exposed to BCME and CMME. In all of these studies, the type of lung cancer, the standardized mortality ratios, the latency periods, and average age when lung cancer appeared were remarkably consistent. Moreover, the report notes that the type and incidence of lung cancer, seen in relatively young individuals after latency periods as short as two years, are distinct from those caused by tobacco. On the basis of this evidence, the report recommends that exposure to BCME and CMME should be eliminated.


Selected Chloroalkyl Ethers, Environmental Health Criteria, No. 201, 1998, xviii + 95 pages (English with summaries in French and Spanish), ISBN 92 4 157201 9, CHF 26.-/USD 23.40; In developing countries: CHF 18.20, Order no. 1160201. WHO distribution and sales, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.


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