Gov. Office Status
Skip to main content


What is Toluene?

Toluene is a clear liquid that occurs naturally in crude oil. It is emitted from gasoline fumes, and is in vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke.

Toluene is used as a solvent, and to make paint products, nail polish, lacquers, glue, and adhesives. It is used in some printing and leather tanning processes, and in producing other chemicals

See also: Factories Gas Station Vehicles and Engines Fuel Industry Learning and Developmental Disabilities

Where is Toluene found?

  • Consumer products – gasoline, paints, nail polish, lacquers, and adhesives
  • Air – vehicle exhaust, emissions from some consumer products, cigarette and secondhand smoke

How can I be exposed to Toluene?

Toluene commonly enter(s) the body through:


Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing gasoline fumes, cigarette and secondhand smoke, emissions from vehicles and some consumer products, or contaminated air

Skin contact

  • Touching products that contain toluene

What happens when I am exposed to Toluene?

Exposure to low to moderate levels of toluene can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Weakness
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea and loss of appetite

Deliberately inhaling or sniffing glue or paint to get high can cause:

  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death
  • During pregnancy, developmental effects in the fetus

Long-term exposure to toluene can cause:

  • Hearing and color vision loss
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased mental ability
  • Damage to the central nervous, reproductive, and immune systems
  • Damage to kidneys and liver
  • Brain damage

Who is at risk for exposure to Toluene?

  • Consumers
    • Some consumer products and processes contain and emit toluene.
  • Cigarette smokers
    • Cigarette and secondhand smoke contain toluene.
  • Pregnant women
    • Exposure to large amounts of toluene can affect a fetus.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to toluene, 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.

  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust or gas stations?
  • Do you live near a busy highway?
  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke tobacco products?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Do you use products that contain toluene?
  • Do you live near a waste site?
  • Limit your time near idling cars, trucks, or buses.
  • Pump gas carefully to avoid breathing the fumes.
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Use proper ventilation when you use consumer products containing toluene.
  • Read product labels.
  • Keep toluene-containing products tightly covered when not in use to prevent evaporation.
  • Routinely test your well water for toluene.
  • If your well water has high levels of toluene, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains toluene levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking or install an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • Use toluene-free products when possible.
  • Don’t let children play near gas stations, idling cars, or busy highways. 
  • Keep children away from toluene products.
  • Store toluene products out of the reach of children.
  • If you live near a waste site, prevent children from eating or playing in dirt.
  • Talk with children about the dangers of sniffing chemicals.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Basic Information about Toluene in Drinking Water
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Factsheet with answers to frequently asked questions about toluene, including its health effects, regulations for its presence in drinking water, as well as information on how it gets into and is removed from drinking water.
  • Toluene. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to the most frequently asked questions about toluene exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
Back to top