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What is an Isoprene?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Isoprene is a heat sensitive organic compound. It can be found naturally in the human body and in the environment at relatively low concentrations. When it is extracted for industrial use, the chemical can generally be found as a clear liquid.

Several types of trees and plants tend to contain isoprene. Heat generated by the sun can cause the substance to be emitted from the leaves of these plants. Once isoprene has been released, it can mix with other substances in the atmosphere to create greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide.

Isoprene is released during cigarette smoking.
Isoprene is released during cigarette smoking.

This process has been observed mostly in tropical and subtropical areas. It is believed that the emissions act as a defense mechanism to help prevent the sun from damaging the plants. Since this process is initiated by heat, it is typically found that emissions are lower at night and during cooler periods.

It is believed that isoprene is the hydrocarbon most commonly found in the human body. If a person’s breath is analyzed, this substance is likely to be present. Research suggests that a 150 pound (70kg) human produces about 17 mg of isoprene per day. This should not, however, encourage people to believe that contact with the chemical is harmless.

Laboratory testing of animals has led to beliefs that isoprene can cause cancer in humans. Tests revealed that exposure to the chemical caused tumors to form in various organs of the specimens. There are not any recognized human tests that confirm these beliefs.

In the United States, however, isoprene is designated as a hazardous material. This means that authorities tend to believe it poses risks to the environment or human health. As such, the chemical is subjected to special regulations that dictate how it must be labeled, used, and disposed of. There should be a material safety data sheet (MSDS) available in workplaces where this substance is used or stored.

Isoprene is a component of natural rubber and is often used in industrial settings to make products such as synthetic rubbers and thermoplastics. A great deal of caution is generally needed when using this chemical. Just as it is sensitive to heat from the sun, it can also react to other heat sources. It tends to be highly flammable and can even be ignited by a spark. Its vapors can also create an explosive environment.

This substance is naturally emitted by the sun. For industrial purposes, it is often extracted by thermal cracking of naphtha, a flammable hydrocarbon mixture. It can also be released by human activities such as wood burning and cigarette smoking.

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    • Isoprene is released during cigarette smoking.
      By: Sergii Figurnyi
      Isoprene is released during cigarette smoking.