Health effects of isophorone


Isophorone is a clear liquid with a peppermint-like odor. It evaporates faster than water but slower than charcoal starter or paint thinner, and it will not mix completely with water. Isophorone is a manmade chemical for use commercially, but it has been found to occur naturally in cranberries. It is used as a solvent in some printing inks, paints, lacquers, and adhesives. Isophorone does not remain in the air very long, but can remain in water for possibly more than 20 days. The length of time that isophorone will remain in soil is not known, but it probably is about the same as the length of time it remains in water.

Exposure to isophorone

Exposure to isophorone may take place where you work or in very low concentrations at home. Because it is used in some inks, paints, lacquers, and adhesives, people who work with these products may be exposed to isophorone.

Isophorone has been found in the drinking water of Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New Orleans at amounts less than 10 parts of isophorone in 1 billion parts of water (10 ppb). In one instance (a screen print shop), isophorone was found in amounts as high as 26 parts in 1 million parts of air (26 ppm), but the usual amounts in the workplace are much lower. At this time, isophorone has been found in at least 9 out of 1177 National Priorities List (NPL) hazardous waste sites in the United States. Exposure to isophorone at these sites may occur by touching contaminated soil, water, or sediment.

Pathways for isophorone in the body

Isophorone can enter your body if you breathe its vapor, have skin contact with it, drink contaminated water, or eat contaminated food. If isophorone is present at a waste site near homes that use local wells as a source of water, the well water could be contaminated with isophorone. Experiments in animals show that after doses by mouth, isophorone enters easily and spreads to many organs of the body, but most of it leaves the body within 24 hours in the breath and in urine. Isophorone may enter the lungs of workers exposed to isophorone where it is used indoors as a solvent. Isophorone disappears quickly from outside air, so the chance of breathing outdoor air contaminated with isophorone is small. If isophorone is spilled at a waste site and evaporates, however, a person nearby may breathe isophorone before it disappears from the air. In addition, soil around waste sites may contain isophorone, and a person, such as a child playing in the dirt, may eat or have skin contact with the contaminated soil. How much isophorone enters the body through the skin is not known.

Health effects of isophorone

You should know that one way to learn whether a chemical will harm people is to determine how the body absorbs, uses, and releases the chemical. For some chemicals, animal testing may be necessary. Animal testing may also help identify such health effects as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory animals, scientists would lose a basic method for getting information needed to make wise decisions that protect public health. Scientists have the responsibility to treat research animals with care and compassion. Scientists must comply with strict animal care guidelines because laws today protect the welfare of research animals.

Additionally, there are vigorous national and international efforts to develop alternatives to animal testing. The efforts focus on both in vitro and in silico approaches and methods. For example, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) created the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) in 1998. The role of NICEATM is to serve the needs of high quality, credible science by facilitating development and validation—and regulatory and public acceptance—of innovative, revised test methods that reduce, refine, and replace the use of animals in testing while strengthening protection of human health, animal health and welfare, and the environment. In Europe, similar efforts at developing alternatives to animal based testing are taking place under the aegis of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM).

The only effects of isophorone reported in humans are irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, and possibly dizziness and fatigue. These effects have occurred in workers who breathe vapors of isophorone and other solvents during use in the printing industry. Short-term exposure of animals to high vapor amounts and short- or long-term exposure of animals to high doses by mouth cause death or a shortened lifespan. Short-term exposure to high amounts of vapors or high doses by mouth has caused inactivity and coma in animals. Inconclusive studies suggested that isophorone may have caused birth defects and growth retardation in the offspring of rats and mice that breathed the vapors during pregnancy.

Some harmful health effects were seen in adult female animals in these studies. It is not known whether isophorone could cause birth defects in humans. In a long-term study in which rats and mice were given high doses of isophorone by mouth, the male rats developed kidney disease and kidney tumors. Male rats also developed tumors in a reproductive gland. Some male mice developed tumors in the liver, in connective tissue, and in lymph glands (tissues of the body that help fight disease), but the evidence was not strong. It is not known whether isophorone causes cancer in humans.

Harmful levels of exposure to isophorone

Odor is first notice at about 0.2 ppm. This means that you can probably smell isophorone before you would have harmful health effects.

Eye, nose, and throat irritation have been seen in people at isophorone levels of 25 ppm from short-term exposures, and fatigue and depression from long-term exposure have been seen at 5 ppm.

The levels of isophorone in air that cause death and lung congestion in animals are much higher than the amounts that workers breathe in industry when using isophorone as a solvent. The amount that causes lung irritation in animals is about the same as the amount that causes eye, nose, and throat irritation in humans. Skin irritation or eye damage has occurred in animals after a few drops of isophorone was applied directly to the skin or eyes.

Medical tests for exposure to

No medical test is known to determine human exposure to isophorone. A few studies in rats and rabbits have shown that isophorone and its metabolites can be found in the urine of these animals, so it may be possible to find a method for testing the urine of humans to determine exposure to isophorone. It is not known, however, whether such a measurement would predict how much exposure had occurred or the possible health effects.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2008). Health effects of isophorone. Retrieved from


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