From the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry web site, located at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/
What is toluene?
Toluene is a colorless liquid with a distinctive sweet and pungent smell. It occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree. You can smell toluene at 8 parts of toluene per million parts of air (ppm) and taste it in water at 0.0ppm to 1ppm.
Toluene is produced during the process of making gasoline and other fuels from crude oil, in making coke from coal, and as a by-product in the manufacture of styrene.
It is also used in making paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish, lacquers, adhesives, and rubber and in some printing and leather tanning processes.
What happens to toluene when it enters the environment?
How might I be exposed to toluene?
- People may be exposed through breathing toluene in workplace air or in automobile exhaust.
- Sniffing glue or using solvents improperly could lead to high exposures.
- Breathing contaminated air or touching it when working with gasoline, kerosene, heating oil, paints, and lacquers puts people at the greatest risk of exposure to toluene in air and on the skin.
- High exposures can occur at home and outdoors while using gasoline, nail polish, rubber cement, paints, paintbrush cleaners, stain removers, fabric dyes, inks, and adhesives.
- Drinking contaminated water or breathing air near waste sites and landfills could lead to higher exposures.
- The amount of toluene in food is likely to be low.
- People are also exposed to toluene by breathing cigarette smoke that has small amounts of toluene in it.
How can toluene affect my health?
Toluene affects the brain. Low-to-moderate levels from long-term exposure can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea and loss of appetite, and hearing loss.
Inhaling a high level of toluene in a short time can make you feel light-headed, dizzy, or sleepy. It can cause unconsciousness, and even death.
Repeated exposure to high levels can cause permanent brain and speech damage, vision and hearing problems, loss of muscle control, and poor balance. It can also cause memory loss and decreased mental ability.
Toluene also affects the kidneys.
Several studies have shown that unborn animals were harmed when high levels of toluene were breathed by their mothers. Babies can have neurologic problems and retarded growth and development if their mothers breathe a high level of toluene during pregnancy. We do not know if toluene harms the unborn child if the mother is exposed to low levels of toluene during pregnancy.
How likely is toluene to cause cancer?
The Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have not classified toluene for carcinogenic effects. Studies in workers and animals indicate that toluene does not cause cancer.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to toluene?
Laboratory tests can detect toluene or its breakdown products in exhaled air, blood, or urine. These tests are only useful within 12 hours of exposure and do not tell if harmful effects will occur. These tests are not routinely available at your doctor's office.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a limit in drinking water of 1 ppm toluene. EPA recommends that children should not drink water containing more than 20 ppm toluene for 1 day, or 2 ppm for longer lengths of time (7 years). Adults should not drink water containing more than 7 ppm toluene for longer times.
The EPA requires that spills or accidental releases of toluene into the environment of 1,000 pounds or more must be reported to EPA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set a maximum level of 200 ppm toluene in workplace air for an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an exposure limit of 100 ppm of toluene in workplace air and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommends an exposure limit of 50 ppm in workplace air.