Chlorine and hydrogen cyanide gas interactions with human skin: in vitro studies to inform skin permeation and decontamination in HAZMAT incidents

J Hazard Mater. 2013 Nov 15;262:759-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2013.09.040. Epub 2013 Sep 29.


Accidental or intentional toxic gas releases may result in significant public health and psychological consequences. Management of exposed individuals during HAZMAT incidents should be risk-based and supported by a suitable scientific evidence base. There appear to be large evidence gaps in relation to dermal absorption of gases, as well as management advice for potentially exposed individuals. Chlorine and hydrogen cyanide are two common HAZMAT gases and this paper addresses the need for experimental data tailored to HAZMAT scenarios and first responders. In addition to time variations of gas concentration, the modifying effects of clothing, temperature, and oil-based sunscreen on epidermal absorption and penetration are assessed. Results for chlorine show little penetration up to 500 ppm but with small enhancing effects due to heavy cotton and oil-based sunscreen. Hydrogen cyanide up to 800 ppm shows minor penetration consistent with previous studies, with little variability in the presence of sunscreen and clothing. Practical guidelines to support the decision-making of emergency responders with regard to personal decontamination have been derived.

Keywords: Chlorine; Dermal absorption; HAZMAT; Hydrogen cyanide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chemical Hazard Release
  • Chemical Warfare
  • Chlorine / metabolism*
  • Clothing
  • Decontamination
  • Disaster Planning
  • Female
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Cyanide / metabolism*
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin Absorption
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Temperature
  • Young Adult


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Hydrogen Cyanide
  • Chlorine