Ethanol, especially E85 fuel, is utilized all over the world to power cars, trucks, tractors, airplanes, and generators in place of gasoline. Used purely (E100) or mixed with gasoline at specific levels (E5, E10, E85, E95, etc.), ethanol and its importance as a power source are definitely apparent, especially in the drastic increase of ethanol fuel demand, which reached to about four billion gallons in 2005. However, the rise in the use of E85 as fuel alternative has also alarmed health officials as to the threats of E85 fuel exposure.
The use of E85 instead of pure gasoline is initially seen as beneficial to the health. E85 shows to be a much cleaner fuel than pure gasoline because ethanol releases less exhaust hyrdocarbons and carbon monoxide. But what concerns most health experts is the practice of mixing ethanol with gasoline, as in the case of E85 fuel. Ethanol mixed with gasoline is found to release other components like peroxyacetyl nitrate, formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde into the air. With this possibility, several intensive studies about the negative effects of inhaling vapors have been underway.
E85 or any mixture of ethanol is found to cause eye, nose, and skin irritations, as well as internal irritation in the respiratory system. Laboratory tests showed that exposure results in dizziness, nausea, sleepiness, stupor, and depression or mental excitement. Symptoms of vapor exposure include lowered inhibition, shallow respiration, flushing, vomiting, flushing, unconsciousness, coma, and death.
Certainly, ingestion and skin absorption of ethanol is toxic to the body. But it is the inhalation that is the main cause of worry since inhalation can happen involuntarily and unconsciously. The good news, however, is that none of the several studies were able to establish a direct relationship between inhalation of vapors and human injuries or even death. This finding can be accounted to the continuing efforts of vehicle manufacturers in improving the quality of vehicle emissions technology to lessen, if not to completely eradicate, the release of toxins in the air.
But the more scientific explanation as to why the mere vapor inhalation is nowhere near to causing immediate body defect or death is that ethanol molecule is quickly metabolized by the body, and inhalation is not a way to intake large amount of ethanol. Upon inhalation, ethanol molecules are processed by the body before the compound reaches the bloodstream. Thus, before ethanol can cause harmful effects, ethanol must first reach a specific level of concentration in the bloodstream.
Concentration of ethanol compounds in the bloodstream mostly happens among alcohol drinkers, as ethanol is present in alcoholic beverages. Blood alcohol concentrations is measured among drunk people by their level of intoxication. Too much drinking of alcohol will increase ethanol concentration in the bloodstream, causing direct harmful effects to the body, including death. But that is not the case with ethanol inhalation. Research has shown that for ethanol to reach a critical level of concentration in the bloodstream like that of an alcoholic, a person must inhale ethanol vapors about eight hours straight.
Thus, when studying the harmful body effects of E85 vapors, there are several variables that must be taken into the equation before arriving at a conclusion. It is important to first study the amount of E85 vapors present in the air. With the act of inhalation, it is important to note the length of the person's exposure. Then, the reactions of the person's body to E85 vapors are studied carefully. The body's breathing rate, lung absorption, and ethanol molecule elimination affect the outcome of the ethanol concentration in the bloodstream.