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What is Methanol?

Methanol is a highly toxic liquid that may explode when exposed to flames. It occurs naturally in wood, volcanic gases, and decaying vegetation. It is emitted from gasoline and diesel engines, and from burning trash and plastics.

Methanol is used to make antifreeze, gasoline, some alternative fuels, solvents, paint products, medicines, and inks. It is in some foods, adhesives, cleaning products, and pesticides.

See also: Vehicles and Engines Construction Factories Homes Brownfield

Where is Methanol found?

  • Consumer products – gasoline, antifreeze, paints and thinners, adhesives, cleaning products, and inks
  • Food and water – some fruits and vegetables, fermented and carbonated beverages, and contaminated water
  • Air – vehicle exhaust, solvent and paint emissions, decomposing vegetation, and burning waste

How can I be exposed to Methanol?

Methanol commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)

  • Swallowing food or beverages that contain methanol or drinking contaminated water

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing emissions from vehicles, paints and paint products, solvents, cleaning products, decomposing vegetation, and burning waste

Skin contact

  • Touching products made with methanol

What happens when I am exposed to Methanol?

Exposure from breathing methanol can cause:

  • Acid in the blood leading to death
  • Visual problems leading to blindness
  • Neurological damage
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Loss of smell

Skin contact with methanol can cause:

  • Dermatitis

Long-term exposure from breathing methanol can cause:

  • Loss of consciousness, coma, seizure, or death
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of smell
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and blindness
  • Seizures
  • Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
  • Damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Birth defects

Who is at risk for exposure to Methanol?

  • Consumers
    • Some consumer products, foods, and beverages contain methanol.
  • Pregnant women
    • Exposure to methanol can cause birth defects.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to methanol, contact your health care professional.

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you use consumer products such as wall and spray paints, solvents, paint strippers, adhesives, cleaners, pesticides, or antifreeze?
  • Do you live near an active volcano or decomposing organic material, sewage, or sludge?
  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust or gas stations?
  • Do you live near a busy highway?
  • Use proper ventilation when using products containing methanol.
  • Avoid skin contact with methanol products.
  • Limit your time near idling cars, trucks, or buses.
  • Pump gas carefully to avoid breathing the fumes.
  • Avoid decomposing organic material, sewage, and sludge.
  • Dispose of nearly-empty containers of methanol products properly since very small amounts can be lethal to children.
  • Don’t let children play near gas stations, idling cars, or busy highways.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Methanol. Alternative Fuels Data Center
    Dept. of Energy
    Information on methanol as an alternative fuel, including research and development, production, economic and environmental benefits, and links to additional resources from a comprehensive information clearinghouse about advanced transportation technologies and the deployment of alternative fuels.
  • Methanol
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Factsheet on methanol, including information on its physical properties, uses, sources of potential exposure, and associated health hazards.
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