Toluene is a clear colourless liquid with a distinctive odour—also known as an aromatic hydrocarbon. It occurs naturally in crude oil and in the tolu tree, making it insoluble in water. It can also be produced in the process of making gasoline.
Toluene is most commonly used in aviation as a solvent and industrial feedstock. For airplanes and cars, toluene is used as an octane booster in fuel.
It is also found in common household products such as paints, nail polish, adhesives, permanent markers and certain types of glue.
Toluene is toxic to multiple body systems, including the nervous, respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
The most common route of exposure for toluene in the ambient air is in automobile emissions. Cigarette smoke is also a source of toluene. Immediate effects include narcosis, fatigue, sleepiness, headache, nausea. It may also cause cardiac arrhythmia.
Ingestion of toluene can lead to a swollen liver, depression of the central nervous system (CNS), congestion and hemorrhage of the lungs and necrosis of myocardial fibres.
Long-term exposure to the liquid can cause neurological damage. It can also result in respiratory difficulties, and inflammation and degeneration of the nasal and respiratory epithelium.
Pregnant women who are exposed to toluene could see developmental delays, CNS dysfunction, minor limb abnormalities and attention deficits in their children.
Inhaling toluene is very toxic to the human body. If it is inhaled, take the contaminated person to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. If they are unconscious, and the rescuer is qualified, they may person CPR. If the victim is struggling to breathe, they can be given oxygen therapy.
If ingested, rinse the victim’s mouth. Do not induce vomiting. Immediately call a doctor or a poison centre. If the victim vomits while lying on their back, put them in a recovery position.
In case of skin or hair contact, shower/wash immediately for at least 15 minutes with water. Remove all contaminated clothing and shoes while washing. Wash contaminated clothing before re-wear. Consult doctor.
If toluene gets into a person’s eyes, flush carefully with water for 15 minutes. Do not forget to wash underneath the eyelids. Call a doctor immediately.
Safety showers and emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical.
Ensure there is adequate ventilation and use toluene with local exhaust ventilation.
Wear proper PPE, such as safety glasses with side shields, a solvent-protective apron and solvent-protective gloves.
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