Xylene is the aromatic hydrocarbon known for its wide usage in tissue processing, staining and coverslipping in the histology laboratory, which becomes particularly hazardous when it evaporates and becomes airborne.
Xylene air contamination can be a challenging issue to resolve, with existing ventilation systems and fume hoods often unable to control airborne contamination effectively. Mobile xylene air contamination filtration units can be easily and effectively deployed in these environments.
We work together with Histologists and Laboratory Managers to specify the optimum installation for each environment.
Xylene is used as a solvent in the printing, rubber, paint and leather industries. In healthcare, xylene is used in histological laboratories for tissue processing, staining and cover slipping and also in dental endodontic retreatment as a solvent. Whilst it allows maximum displacement of alcohol and renders tissue transparent, it evaporates easily and is hazardous when inhaled.
Long-term xylene air contamination exposure may lead to headaches, irritability, depression, insomnia, agitation, extreme tiredness, tremors, impaired concentration and short-term memory. This condition is sometimes generally referred to as “organic solvent syndrome.”
Research indicates that chronic exposure to xylene causes dryness of the eyes, nose, throat and skin, and potentially kidney and liver damage.
Xylene is one of the 500 substances which have a Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) set through the UK Government's Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations. The limits set are 50 parts per million (ppm) for an 8-hour exposure and 100 ppm for a 20-minute exposure. The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health sets limits of 100 ppm and 200 ppm, respectively, for xylene exposure.
For the consumer, it is important to ensure there is adequate ventilation when using products that might contain xylene. Store these in tightly closed containers and in only small amounts. Look for products that don't contain xylene or which have minimal levels wherever possible. Xylene is a VOC and so comes under the European Union's new VOC labelling scheme (look for VOC 2010 compliant labels).
In order to control Xylene exposure, three main avenues are to be explored; ventilation and removal, substitution and protection.
Ventilation / Removal - A local exhaust ventilation system can be used to reduce levels of xylene in the workplace environment. Xylene air contamination can be controlled with a mobile standalone high-performance air purifier with the ability to absorb VOCs, such as the IQAir GCX VOC. The mobile air cleaner can be fitted with local source extraction directly in addition to the ability to clean the recirculated air in a laboratory or workroom.
Substitution - Various alternatives to xylene have been tried – unfortunately, none of them is ideal. They include limonene and mineral oil. Research in "green chemistry" continues to look for safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional chemicals in common use. Such approaches may well come up with an improved substitute for xylene in future years but until then means to control xylene air contamination are required.
Protection - Use of personal protective clothing/equipment (PPE) like gloves, safety glasses and boots, is essential when working with xylene.