Toluene is a toxic ingredient in solvents, paints, and other household products.
What is toluene?
Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid with a strong, sweet, and pungent odor. It occurs naturally in crude oil. Toluene has a chemical formula of C7H8.
Toluene is used as a solvent and to make aviation gasoline, spray and wall paints, paint thinner, medicine, dyes, explosives, detergents, fingernail polish, spot removers, lacquers, adhesives, rubber, and antifreeze. It is also used in some printing and leather tanning processes.
The largest industrial use of toluene is in the production of benzene, a chemical used to make plastics and synthetic fibers. Toluene is also used to boost the octane of gasoline. Toluene is a volatile organic compound (VOC).
You can be exposed to toluene by breathing automobile exhaust, pumping gasoline, consuming contaminated food or water, or using other products that contain toluene, such as kerosene, heating oil, paints, and lacquers.
You can be exposed to toluene at work by breathing contaminated air or having skin contact with it.
You can be exposed to toluene in your community if toluene is released in a fire or spill or has been contaminating water or air for a long time.
Inhaling high levels of toluene can cause death or unconsciousness. Repeatedly breathing toluene over long periods of time at work, or through deliberately "sniffing" or "huffing" glue or paint, can cause death, permanent brain damage, or depression. If you are pregnant, repeated exposure to toluene may increase the risk of damage to the fetus.
Exposure to high levels of toluene may affect your kidneys, nervous system, liver, brain, and heart. Direct, prolonged contact with liquid toluene or vapor can irritate the eyes and cause dry skin and skin rashes. Ingesting toluene can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and difficult breathing.
Exposure to low to moderate levels of toluene can cause confusion, light-headedness, dizziness, headache, fatigue, weakness, memory loss, nausea, appetite loss, coughing, wheezing, and hearing and color vision loss.
If you think you have been exposed to toluene, 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.
Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Basic Information about Toluene in Drinking Water (Environmental Protection Agency)
Map of Releases of Toluene in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Toluene (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Toluene. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Toluene. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Toluene. Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
Toluene. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Last Updated: February 1, 2017