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Chemicals In The Workplace That Cause Hearing Loss

Exposure to constant high levels of noise is not the only source of hearing loss in the workplace. Workers are also at risk of hearing loss if they are exposed to ototoxic substances – chemicals that affect the structures and/or the function of the inner ear (coloured blue below) and its connected neural pathways.


There is good evidence that exposure to some solvents, asphyxiants, nitriles, metals and metal compounds causes transient (temporary) or permanent ototoxicity. A list of these chemicals can be found in the table below:

Solvents Asphyxiants Nitriles Metals and Metal Compounds
· Toluene;· Ethylbenzene;· N-propylbenzene;· Styrene and methylstyrenes;· Trichloroethylene;

· P-Xylene;

· N-Hexane;

· Carbon disulfide.

· Carbon monoxide;· Hydrogen cyanide and its salts (cyanides).     Acrylonitrile;· 3,3’-Iminodipropionitrile;· 3-Butenenitrile;· Cis-2-Pentenenitrile;· Cis-Crotononitrile.


· Lead and lead compounds;· Mercury (methyl mercury chloride, mercuric sulfide);· Tin, organic compounds;· Germanium (germanium dioxide).

In most Australian states and territories, workers at risk of hearing loss are assessed every one or two years to monitor any significant changes in hearing.


  1. Combined exposure to noise and ototoxic substances. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2009. DOI: 10.2802/16028

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