Fact Sheet: Toluene


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Toluene
Category: Organic
MCL: 1000 PPB
Source: Manufacture of chemicals
Effect: Fatigue; impairment of senses; liver and kidney damage
Followup: Treat and retest quarterly
Treatment: Granular activated charcoal

Toluene is an organic liquid with a sweet, benzene-like odor. The largest chemical use for toluene is to make benzene and urethane. Production of toluene was 6.4 billion lbs in 1993. It is released into the atmosphere principally from the volatilization of petroleum fuels and toluene-based solvents and thinners and from motor vehicle exhaust. It is also released in wastewaters or by spills on land during the storage, transport and disposal of fuels and oils.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA’s Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, toluene releases to land and water totalled over 4 million lbs., primarily from petroleum refining industries. The largest releases occurred in Texas and California. The largest releases directly to water occurred in Connecticut and West Virginia.

What happens to Toluene when it is released to the environment? Toluene released to soil will be lost by evaporation from near-surface soil and by leaching to the groundwater. Its breakdown by soil microbes is slow. Toluene evaporates within a few hours when released to water, and it has little tendency to accumulate in aquatic life.

Short-term: EPA has found toluene to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: minor nervous system disorders such as fatigue, nausea, weakness, confusion.
Long-term: Toluene has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: more pronounced nervous disorders such as spasms, tremors, impairment of speech, hearing, vision, memory, coordination; liver and kidney damage.

Treat and retest quarterly.

Granular activated charcoal in combination with Packed Tower Aeration.