Effects Of Toluene Exposure

What is Toluene? Toluene has a variety of uses:

  • Added to gasolene to improve the octane rating
  • To produce benzene
  • As a solvent in paints,coatings, adhesives, inks and cleaning agents
  • In the production of polymers to make plastic bottles
  • In the production of polyurethanes to make pharmaceuticals, dyes and cosmetic nail products.

Following up on the NEPA Report on Riverton 2018, here are 4 quick points on Toluene exposure. Toluene was found to be at a high level during the fire.

NEPA does not track Toluene as part of the NRCA (Air Quality) Regulations 2006, however “According to the WHO Air Quality Guideline for Europe (World Health Organization, 2000), mean ambient air concentrations of toluene in urban air are in the range 5–150 μg/m3. Concentrations may be higher close to industrial emission sources.”.

Unfortunately, Riverton is situated adjacent to both industrial AND residential areas.

From the NEPA Report: “The highest recorded concentration for toluene of 30μg/m3 was just over 2½ times the 11.2μg/m3 concentration recorded during the 2015 fire at the RSWDS. It should be noted that the 2015 fire was considerably larger (8 acres versus 60 acres), hence it is of concern that the toluene levels are considerably higher.”.

So although the level of Toluene might have been acceptable in an industrial area, it was totally unacceptable in a residential area. These findings give credibility to calls for the dump to be relocated.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States of America gives some guidelines to toluene stating: “Levels of toluene measured in rural, urban, and indoor air averaged 1.3, 10.8, and 31.5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), respectively.” The 31.5micrograms per cubic meter represents industrial working areas, according to

The CDC then discusses the following effects from exposure:

1. Acute exposure to toluene may cause narcosis and central nervous system dysfunction (which has symptoms including)
  • fatigue
  • sleepiness
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • loss of conciousness
  • cardiac arrhythmia
  • At higher levels of exposure death has been known to occur

2. Continuous exposure to toluene at high levels (much greater than 30μg/m3) has resulted in depression of the Central Nervous System. Symptoms include:

  • drowsiness
  • ataxia
  • tremors
  • cerebral atrophy
  • nystagmus (involuntary eye movements)
  • impaired speech, hearing, and vision.

3. Chronic inhalation exposure to toluene causes irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, sore throat, dizziness, headache, and difficulty with sleep.

4. CNS dysfunction, attention deficits, minor craniofacial and limb anomalies, and developmental delay were observed in the children of pregnant women exposed to toluene or to mixed solvents during solvent abuse. This point is not represented as a fact as the studies that gave these results were confounded by exposure to multiple chemicals.

Read more about Toluene from the EPA here,  the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the WHO.

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