What is propane?
Propane is a colorless and odorless gas or liquid that is highly flammable. It is produced as a by-product of natural gas processing and crude oil refining. The chemical formula for propane is C3H8.
Propane is the principal component of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). It is used to manufacture other chemicals, including ethylene and propylene, and as a refrigerant, solvent, and aerosol propellant.
The most common household uses for propane are in open-fired outdoor grills, hot water heaters, spas and swimming pools, lighting, heating, and stoves. In agriculture, propane is used for heating, power generation, waste treatment, crop drying, and weed control in corn, soybeans, cotton, tobacco, and strawberries. Burning propane releases greenhouse gases that can contribute to climate change.
In industry, propane is used as a fuel for various machines, including forklifts. It is also a fuel for light-to-heavy-duty trucks, buses, taxis, police cars, and rental and delivery vehicles.
You can be exposed to propane if you inhale it or if it touches your skin or eyes.
You can be exposed to propane at home if you cook on an outdoor propane grill or have appliances or equipment that uses propane for fuel. You can be exposed to propane if you are a farmer or farm worker on a farm that uses propane in its buildings, generators, or fields.
You can be exposed at work if you are a transport driver, gas station attendant, service station attendant, or driver of a vehicle or forklift that is fueled by propane. You can be exposed if you work at a gasoline bulk handling facility, petroleum refinery, or chemical manufacturing facility.
Propane is an asphyxiant, which cuts off oxygen to the body. Exposure to very high concentrations of propane can cause death by suffocation from lack of oxygen.
Exposure to high levels of propane can cause cardiac arrest, incapacitation, unconsciousness, or seizures. Direct skin contact with liquid propane can cause frostbite.
Exposure to lower levels of propane can cause damage to the central nervous system, lung congestion, fluid in the lungs, fatigue, decreased night vision, tunnel vision, hallucinations, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, headache, euphoria, numbness and tingling of arms and legs, hyperventilation, rapid heartbeat, poor judgment, confusion, memory loss, anorexia, nosebleeds, conjunctivitis, weight loss, and skin irritation and discoloration.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to propane, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Home Safe Home. Propane Safety Tips for the Home (Railroad Commission of Texas) (PDF — 324 KB)
Map of Superfund Hazardous Waste Sites with Propane in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Propane (US Energy Information Administration)
Propane (in aerosols). Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
Propane Basics (Dept. of Energy) (PDF — 672 KB)
Propane Poisoning (University of Maryland Medical Center)
Propane. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Propane. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Last Updated: June 27, 2016