Estimated Rate of Fatal Automobile Accidents Attributable to Acute Solvent Exposure at Low Inhaled Concentrations

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Abstract

Acute solvent exposures may contribute to automobile accidents because they increase reaction time and decrease attention, in addition to impairing other behaviors. These effects resemble those of ethanol consumption, both with respect to behavioral effects and neurological mechanisms. These observations, along with the extensive data on the relationship between ethanol consumption and fatal automobile accidents, suggested a way to estimate the probability of fatal automobile accidents from solvent inhalation. The problem can be approached using the logic of the algebraic transitive postulate of equality: if A=B and B=C, then A=C. We first calculated a function describing the internal doses of solvent vapors that cause the same magnitude of behavioral impairment as ingestion of ethanol (A=B). Next, we fit a function to data from the literature describing the probability of fatal car crashes for a given internal dose of ethanol (B=C). Finally, we used these two functions to generate a third function to estimate the probability of a fatal car crash for any internal dose of organic solvent vapor (A=C). This latter function showed quantitatively (1) that the likelihood of a fatal car crash is increased by acute exposure to organic solvent vapors at concentrations less than 1.0 ppm, and (2) that this likelihood is similar in magnitude to the probability of developing leukemia from exposure to benzene. This approach could also be applied to other potentially adverse consequences of acute exposure to solvents (e.g., nonfatal car crashes, property damage, and workplace accidents), if appropriate data were available.

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