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Revisions to Limits for Methanol in the Air of Spacecraft

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INTRODUCTION: The previous Spacecraft Maximal Allowable Concentrations (SMACs) for methanol were established by characterizing minor effects upon cognitive functions as a no-observable adverse effects level (NOAEL). However, an increasing awareness of the risk posed by Space-Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS) has caused NASA Toxicology to reexamine SMACs for methanol because exposure to it can also adversely affect ocular health. An updated review of the literature indicates that no adjustments to the SMACs due to SANS complications were required, while confirming that effects upon the central nervous system remain the appropriate basis for the SMACs for methanol. Our review, however, identified several issues that provide justification for modest SMAC reductions. It has recently been recognized that inhaled methanol may reach the brain via the olfactory system and be absorbed there into the highly toxic metabolite formaldehyde. A benchmark dose (BMD) for an extra risk of 10%, derived from an analysis of the incidences of neurological lesions in monkeys chronically exposed to methanol, is an order of magnitude less than the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) reference concentration for chronic inhalation of methanol. Reports calling attention to the relative insensitivity of traditional methods of assessing cognitive function erode confidence that adverse effects at the concentration reported as a NOAEL would have been recognizable. Therefore, an additional modest safety factor of three is applied to SMACs for methanol.

Scully RR, Garcia H, McCoy JT, Ryder VE. Revisions to limits for methanol in the air of spacecraft. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2019; 90(9):807–812.
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Keywords: benchmark dose; exposure limit; inhalation toxicity

Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: September 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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