The electronic cigarette solvents propylene glycol and glycerol are known to produce toxic byproducts such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein. However, the aerosol toxin yield depends upon a variety of chemical and physical variables. The formaldehyde hemiacetals derived from these solvents were reported as major electronic cigarette aerosol components by us in 2015. In the study described herein, the formaldehyde hemiacetals were found at higher levels than those of free formaldehyde via an orthogonal sample collection protocol. In addition, the common aldehyde collection methods for electronic cigarettes, such as impingers and sorbent tubes containing DNPH, significantly underestimate the levels of formaldehyde. The reason for this is that formaldehyde hemiacetals follow other reaction pathways, such as the formation of a less reactive full cyclic acetal catalyzed by the acidity of the DNPH solution and the silica. We found that formaldehyde hemiacetals are a considerable fraction of the total formaldehyde produced in electronic cigarette that cannot be determined accurately by DNPH derivatization methods. Although the health effects of the hemiacetals are not yet known, they warrant further investigation.
Salamanca, J. C., Munhenzva, I., Escobedo, J. O., Jensen, R. P., Shaw, A., Campbell, R., ... & Strongin, R. M. (2017). Formaldehyde Hemiacetal Sampling, Recovery, and Quantification from Electronic Cigarette Aerosols. Scientific Reports, 7.