Toluene, also called methylbenzene, is a natural chemical solvent often added to paint, metal cleaners, various fuels, nail polish, printing inks, and stain removers. It is also naturally produced in smoke from wildfires. It is a colorless liquid. It smells sweet and evaporates quickly but can remain unchanged if air does not come in contact with it, so it can seep into soil and contaminate drinking water if spilled.

Toluene is found in many household products but can evaporate out of them. People may become sickened by breathing it in, getting it on their skin, or ingesting it, which is part of the reason many of these products recommend use in well-ventilated areas.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “Toluene exposure may cause liver and kidney damage. Symptoms of toluene exposure include: irritation of the eyes and nose; weakness, exhaustion, confusion, euphoria, dizziness, headache; dilated pupils, lacrimation (discharge of tears); anxiety, muscle fatigue, insomnia; numbness or tingling of the skin; dermatitis. Toluene exposure may cause liver and kidney damage.

Toluene affects the central nervous system, eyes, skin, respiratory system, liver, kidneys. Breathing high levels of toluene during pregnancy has been shown to result in children with birth defects and to retard mental abilities and growth. There is evidence that exposure to toluene at work is associated with spontaneous abortion.

High concentrations of toluene, usually from use in a confined space or unventilated area, can cause loss of consciousness, respiratory depression and death.”

Toluene is added to gasoline because it improves octane ratings. It is also used in the production of plastics, nylon, and polyurethanes, and even in the production of TNT. Every year, there is a demand for close to 27 million tons of it. The majority of that demand comes from oil refineries.

By: Ellie Cabell

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