What is Toluene?
Toluene is an aromatic hydrocarbon. It is a colorless, water-insoluble liquid with the smell associated with paint thinners. It is a mono-substituted benzene derivative, consisting of a CH3 group attached to a phenyl group.
The major use of toluene is as a mixture added to gasoline to improve octane ratings. Toluene is also used to produce benzene and as a solvent in paints, coatings, synthetic fragrances, adhesives, inks, and cleaning agents. Toluene is also used in the production of polymers used to make nylon, plastic soda bottles, and polyurethanes and for pharmaceuticals, dyes, cosmetic nail products, and the synthesis of organic chemicals.
Sources and Potential Exposure
Toluene is added to gasoline, used to produce benzene, and used as a solvent. Exposure to toluene may occur from breathing ambient or indoor air affected by such sources. The central nervous system (CNS) is the primary target organ for toluene toxicity in both humans and animals for acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) exposures. CNS dysfunction and narcosis have been frequently observed in humans acutely exposed to elevated airborne levels of toluene; symptoms include fatigue, sleepiness, headaches, and nausea. CNS depression has been reported to occur in chronic abusers exposed to high levels of toluene. Chronic inhalation exposure of humans to toluene also causes irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, sore throat, dizziness, and headache. Human studies have reported developmental effects, such as CNS dysfunction, attention deficits, and minor craniofacial and limb anomalies, in the children of pregnant women exposed to high levels of toluene or mixed solvents by inhalation.
EPA has concluded that that there is inadequate information to assess the carcinogenic potential of toluene.