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 0.04 ppm to 1 ppm.
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?
- Toluene has been found in waste sites and landfills when discarded as used solvent or in paints, paint thinners, and nail polish.
- It does not stay in the environment long.
- It is readily broken down by microorganisms in the soil.
- It evaporates quickly from the soil and surface water into the air.
- Toluene in the air combines with oxygen to form benzaldehyde and cresol, which can be harmful to people.
- Toluene can be taken up by fish, shellfish, plants, and animals living in water, but high levels do not build up.
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?
The most immediate symptoms of toluene overexposure are dizziness, light-headedness and a sense of euphoria similar to being drunk. (The doctors call these symptoms "central nervous system depression.") If high levels of exposure continue, an exposed person will have other symptoms of being drunk, like problems with speech, vision and balance, followed eventually by sleepiness, coma and even occasionally death. High levels of toluene also irritate the nose, throat and lower respiratory system.
Inhaling toluene can also disrupt the normal rhythm of the heart, occasionally causing heart failure and death. This happens with some regularity to teenagers and others who sniff glue to get a "high." Sometimes this happens when glue sniffing takes place soon after strenuous physical activity. Often it strikes for no apparent reason. People who know they have heart disease or a heart arrhythmia should avoid unnecessary toluene exposure whenever possible.
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. "
Toluene addiction is one of the most common forms of solvent abuse in India. Why? Because its the cheapest way to get a "high"! The momentary feelings of euphoria and hallucination is amazing, but the severe neurological aftereffects of chronic abuse is deadly. Beware!