Are Solvent Emissions the New Asbestos?

safer alternatives, solvents, workplace safety

For decades, asbestos exposure has been the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths in the world. In fact, approximately 90 million people around the world die of asbestos-related diseases each year, while an estimated 125 million people remain at risk of asbestos exposure in the workplace. Similarly, the use of traditional solvents is exposing countless workers to health and safety risks.

Next to the United Kingdom, Australia has the second-highest mesothelioma death rate in the world. An alarming 10,000 people have died in the country due to the disease since the early 1980s. In 2018 alone, nearly 700 Australians have died from mesothelioma.

On the other hand, such commonplace substances as solvents also pose significant hazards to human health. Whilst some information on the effects of these chemicals is available, what’s concerning is the fact that the ramifications of many types of solvents are yet to be fully known.

It’s quite common to find solvents in workplaces. These chemicals are regularly used in numerous industries for a variety of tasks including degreasing, adhesion, metal cleaning, lubricating, paint thinning or stripping. Solvents are also used for dissolving or diluting other substances.

The most common solvents in the workplace are petroleum-based chemicals and can be extremely hazardous.

How Solvent Exposure Happen

Solvent exposure can happen in 3 ways:

  • Inhalation: Most solvents evaporate very quickly and the fumes and vapours produced can easily enter the bloodstream when inhaled.
  • Ingestion: Contaminated hands or gloves can pass the solvents onto food or drinks and can result in the ingestion of these chemicals.
  • Skin Absorption: Solvents can be easily absorbed through the skin after direct contact.
  • Eye contact: Liquid solvents and solvent vapour can make contact with the eyes and cause irritation and inflammation.

How Solvents Affect Health

Solvents can affect human health in different ways, depending on the method and length of exposure as well as the type of solvent a person was exposed to.

Short-term effects


Those exposed to low levels of solvents can experience:

  • Skin irritations or dermatitis (drying, cracking, reddening or blistering of the affected area of skin)
  • Irritation of eyes
  • Irritation of lungs
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Poor coordination
  • Nausea

Long-term effects

Those with repeated exposure to particular solvents can experience:

  • Dermatitis
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Neurological disease
  • Fertility issues (for both men and women)

The fetus in a pregnant woman can also be affected due to solvent exposure which may lead to miscarriage. Other solvents are known to cause cancer, such as benzene.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer has found a link between parents’ exposure to chemicals such as benzene, toluene, and trichloroethylene and brain tumours in their children.

In Australia, accidental poisoning due to exposure to substances such as organic solvents and gases as well as alcohol, comprised 16 percent of hospitalisation cases in 2017-2018.

In some cases, exposure to particular solvents resulted in sudden death.

At-Risk Workers


Solvents are present in most workplaces; however, workers engaged in the following may be particularly at risk due to the nature of their jobs:

  • Automotive and machine maintenance
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Cleaning
  • Construction
  • Dry cleaning
  • Footwear manufacturing
  • Furniture and wood manufacturing
  • Metal finishing
  • Painting or spray painting
  • Pesticide application
  • Plastics manufacturing
  • Printing
  • Semi-conductor industry

How to Protect Your Workers and Yourself

Businesses are expected to adhere to the Australian Code of Practice when managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace. A Hierarchy of Actions ranks control measures from the most effective to least effective methods of controlling risk:

  1. Elimination of hazardous chemicals – removing the hazard if it’s something you can do without
  2. Substitution of hazardous chemicals – replacing the hazard with a safer alternative
  3. Isolation – use of barriers or distance to prevent or minimise risks
  4. Engineering controls – employing mechanisms or processes to reduce worker exposure to chemical hazards
  5. Administrative controls – employee training of protocols, use of PPEs and other safety precautions such as alarms, labels and signages

Safer Solvent

Our range of Purasolve Safety Solvents offers low-hazard alternatives to some of the most commonly used hazardous and dangerous industrial solvents. These products replace chemicals such as MEK, Acetone and other products containing benzene and its derivatives.

Pursolve Safety Solvents are the safest alternatives to solvents with their high flash points and low vapour pressures. Explore our range of solvents for applications including parts washing, paint equipment cleaning, surface preparation and brake cleaning.

With these solvent alternatives, not only are you protecting your workers from health and safety risks, but you are also free of exposure to any future litigation claims.

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