Organic solvents are carbon-based solvents that are capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances. Organic solvents can belong to many different chemical classes, including aliphatic hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons, alcohols, amines, esters, ethers, ketones, and halogenated hydrocarbons. Common uses for organic solvents are in dry cleaning (tetrachloroethylene), paint thinners (toluene, white spirit), nail polish removers and glue solvents (acetone, methyl acetate, ethyl acetate), stain removers (hexane, petrol ether), detergents (glycol ethers) and perfumes (ethanol). Organic solvents are also widely used in chemical, pharmaceutical, oil, and gas industries, including in chemical synthesis and purification processes. Exposure usually occurs via inhalation or the dermal route.
There are limited data describing pregnancy outcomes following exposure to solvents in general; data relating to specific classes of solvent are also scarce. Studies have raised concerns about the possible reproductive effects of organic solvent exposure, largely as a consequence of occupational exposure. Adverse pregnancy outcomes reported include miscarriage, congenital malformation, low infant birth weight and altered childhood neurodevelopment, however data are conflicting. Additionally, data are often confounded by factors including multiple exposures and sociodemographic factors, and limited through exposures being assumed through job title or place of residence. It is therefore difficult to draw conclusions regarding the safety profile of organic solvents in general or any specific organic solvent. Pregnant women should be advised to avoid exposure to organic solvents. Where exposure cannot be avoided, personal protective equipment (PPE) should be employed as per the manufacturer’s instructions and exposure should ideally be well below occupational exposure limits.
Low-level exposure to organic solvents at any stage in pregnancy would not usually be regarded as medical grounds for termination of pregnancy. The need for additional fetal monitoring should be determined on a case-by-case basis taking into account factors such as whether exposure was acute or chronic, whether personal protective equipment was employed and the stage of pregnancy. Where high level exposure and/or symptoms of maternal toxicity have occurred please contact UKTIS for a case-specific assessment of the risk of fetal harm. Maternal toxicity should be treated as for the non-pregnant patient and where a specific treatment is clinically indicated this should not be withheld on account of pregnancy. Other risk factors may also be present in individual cases which may independently increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcome. Clinicians are reminded of the importance of consideration of such factors.
This is a summary of the full UKTIS monograph for health care professionals and should not be used in isolation. The full UKTIS monograph and access to any hyperlinked related documents is available to NHS health care professionals who are logged in.
If you have a patient with exposure to a drug or chemical and require assistance in making a patient-specific risk assessment, please telephone UKTIS on 0344 892 0909 to discuss the case with a teratology specialist.
If you would like to report a pregnancy to UKTIS please click here to download our pregnancy reporting form. Please encourage all women to complete an online reporting form.