Fact Sheet: Xylene


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Xylene
Category: Organic
MCL: 10000 PPB
Source: Solvents, gasoline, plasticizers
Effect: Damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys
Followup: Treat and retest quarterly
Treatment: Granular activated charcoal

A xylene is any of a group of very similar organic compounds. They are clear liquids with a sweet odor. The greatest use of xylenes is as a solvent which is much safer than benzene. Other uses include: in gasoline as part of the BTX component (benzene-toluene-xylene); Xylene mixtures are used to make phthalate plasticizers, polyester fiber, film and fabricated items.

Production of xylenes was 6.84 billion lbs. in 1993. Major environmental releases of xylenes are due to evaporation from the refining and use of petroleum products. It may also be released by leaks or spills during the transport and storage of gasoline and other fuels. Xylenes are a natural products of many plants, and are a component of petroleum and coal tar.

From 1987 to 1993, according to EPA’s Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, xylene releases to land and water totalled nearly 4.8 billion lbs. These releases were primarily from petroleum refining industries. The largest releases occurred in Texas. The largest direct releases to water occurred in New Jersey and Georgia.

What happens to Xylene when it is released to the environment? Most of the xylenes are released into the atmosphere where they are quickly degraded by sunlight. When released to soil or water, xylenes will quickly evaporate. They may leach into ground water and persist there for several years. There is little potential for accumulation in aquatic life.

Short-term: EPA has found xylenes to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: disturbances of cognitive abilities, balance, and coordination.
Long-term: Xylenes has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.

Treat and retest quarterly.

Granular activated charcoal in combination with Packed Tower Aeration.