Analysis of Chemical Simulants in Urine: A Useful Tool for Assessing Emergency Decontamination Efficacy in Human Volunteer Studies

Thomas James*, Samuel Collins, Richard Amlot, Timothy Marczylo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: To date, all human studies of mass-casualty decontamination for chemical incidents have relied on the collection and analysis of external samples, including skin and hair, to determine decontamination efficacy. The removal of a simulant contaminant from the surface of the body with the assumption that this translates to reduced systemic exposure and reduced risk of secondary contamination has been the main outcome measure of these studies. Some studies have investigated systemic exposure through urinary levels of simulant metabolites. The data obtained in these studies were confounded by high background concentrations from dietary sources. The unmetabolized simulants have never been analyzed in urine for the purposes of decontamination efficacy assessment.Study Objective: Urinary simulant analysis could obviate the need to collect skin or hair samples during decontamination trials and provide a better estimate of both decontamination efficacy and systemic exposure. The study objective therefore was to determine whether gross skin contamination as part of a decontamination study would yield urine levels of simulants sufficient to evaluate systemic availability free from dietary confounders.Methods: In this study, a gas chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method was developed for the analysis of two chemical simulants, methyl salicylate (MeS) and benzyl salicylate (BeS), in urine. An extraction and sample clean-up method was validated, enabling quantitation of these simulants in urine. The method was then applied to urine collected over a 24-hour period following simulant application to the skin of volunteers.Results: Both MeS and BeS were present in all urine samples and were significantly increased in all post-application samples. The MeS levels peaked one hour after skin application. The remaining urinary levels were variable, possibly due to additional MeS exposures such as inhalation. In contrast, the urinary excretion pattern for BeS was more typical for urinary excretion curves, increasing clearly above baseline from four hours post-dose and peaking between 12.5 and 21 hours, a pattern consistent with dermal absorption and rapid excretion.Conclusion: The authors propose BeS is a useful simulant for use in decontamination studies and that its measurement in urine can be used to model systemic exposures following skin application and therefore likely health consequences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-487
Number of pages6
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on independent research commissioned and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR; United Kingdom) Policy Research Programme (PR-ST-1015-10016). Richard Amlôt is part-funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London in partnership with Public Health England (PHE; London, UK); and Tim Marczylo is part-funded by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Health Impacts of Environmental Hazards. The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, the Department of Health and Social Care, ‘arms’ length bodies, or other Government departments.


  • benzyl salicylate
  • chemical incident
  • emergency decontamination
  • methyl salicylate
  • systemic exposure


Dive into the research topics of 'Analysis of Chemical Simulants in Urine: A Useful Tool for Assessing Emergency Decontamination Efficacy in Human Volunteer Studies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this