American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV): 2 ppm, 7.9 mg/m3 TWA; Skin; Appendix A3 - Confirmed Animal Carcinogen with Unknown Relevance to Humans; BEI
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL):Appendix D - Substances With No Established RELs
Health Effects: Irritation- Eyes---Marked (HE14); Irritation-Nose, Throat, Skin---Mild (HE16)
Affected Organs: Eyes, skin, respiratory system
Approximately 78% of inhaled furfural is absorbed and is excreted in the urine mostly as the glycine conjugate of furoic acid (furoylglycine), with a biological half-life of 2-2.5 hours. Significant absorption of furfural can occur through the skin.
The LC50 of furfural in rats (1-hour exposure) was reported to be 189 ppm.
Subacute inhalation studies in rats reported histopathological nasal changes with furfural concentrations as low as OSHA's PEL (20 mg/m3 = 5 ppm). In mice, the concentration that decreased respiration by 50% (RD50) was in the range of 234-287 ppm.
EPA's reference dose (RfD, daily oral exposure likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime) for furfural is 0.003 mg/kg/day. This RfD is 1/100 the amount of furfural and its precursors (furfuryl alcohol and furfuryl esters) estimated to be consumed daily in foods and beverages. Others have proposed an oral RfD of 0.03 mg/kg/day.
The Appendix in NIOSH's Alert on food flavorings lists furfural as a flavoring substance. The FDA has not formally evaluated the safety of furfural use as a food-flavoring ingredient. However, as permitted by law, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers' Association has independently determined that furfural is generally recognized as safe as a flavor ingredient. To date, the FDA has not questioned that determination.
EPA received an application for the use of furfural as a fungicide for greenhouse soil treatment, turf and ornamental (non-food) plants.
NIOSH reported an abundant (but not quantified) concentration of furfural among several volatile organic compounds (VOC) identified in commercial bulk liquid butter flavoring heated to 50°C. VOC from butter flavorings have been causally implicated in occupational lung disease, including bronchiolitis obliterans (see also Diacetyl).
Relatively high concentrations of furfural have been reported for surgical smoke (vapors from electrocautery) when sampled at 2 cm from the point of origin.
Adams, T.B., et al.: The FEMA GRAS assessment of furfural used as a flavour ingredient. Flavor and Extract Manufacturers' Association. Food Chem. Toxicol.35(8): 739-751, 1997.
Arts, J.H.E., de Heer, C. and Woutersen, R.A.: Local effects in the respiratory tract: relevance of subjectively measured irritation for setting occupational exposure limits. Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health 79(4): 283-298, 2006.
Arts, J.H., Muijser, H., Appel, M.J., Frieke Kuper, C. Bessems, J.G. and Woutersen, R.A.: Subacute (28-day) toxicity of furfural in Fischer 344 rats: a comparison of the oral and inhalation route. Food. Chem. Toxicol. 42(9): 1389-1399, 2004.
Boylstein, R., Piacitelli, C., Grote, A., Kanwal, R., Kullman, G. and Kreiss, K.: Diacetyl emissions and airborne dust from butter flavorings used in microwave popcorn production. J. Occup. Environ. Hyg. 3(10): 530-535, 2006.
Ewing, A., Phelka, A., Ball, G. and McLellan, C.: Human health risk assessment of furfural to determine drinking water action levels (Abstract). Toxicologist 78(Suppl. 1): 151, 2004.
Flek, J. and Šedivec, V.: The absorption, metabolism and excretion of furfural in man. Int. Arch. Occup. Environ. Health 41(3): 159-168, 1978.
Hollmann, R., Hort, C.E., Kammer, E., Naegele, M., Sigrist, M.W. and Meuli-Simmen, C.: Smoke in the operating theater: an unregarded source of danger. Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 114(2): 458-463, 2004.
Mishra, A., et al.: Pathological and biochemical alterations induced by inhalation of furfural vapor in rat lung. Bull. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 47(): 668-674, 1991.
Pohanish, R.P. (editor): Furfural. In, Sittig's Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals and Carcinogens, Fourth Ed., Vol. 1. Norwich, NY: Noyes Publications, William Andrew Publishing, 2002, pp. 1196-1198.
Rodriguez-Kabana, R., Kloepper, J.W., Weaver, C.F. and Robertson, D.G.: Control of plant parasitic nematodes with furfural: a naturally occurring fumigant. Nematropica 23(1): 63-73, 1993.
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