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Millions of workers are exposed to solvents on a daily basis. Health hazards associated with solvent exposure include toxicity to the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, cancer, and dermatitis. Solvents share many chemical, physical, and biological properties that warrant national attention be directed to them as a group. In addition, many solvent groups or individual substances have special properties requiring more specialized control measures

Exposures to solvents are addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, and the construction industry.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights OSHA standards and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to solvents.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Many workers are unaware of the potential hazards in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to injury. Employers are responsible for informing employees of the hazards and the identities of workplace chemicals to which they are exposed. The following references aid in recognizing solvent hazards in the workplace.

  • OSHA Technical Manual (OTM). OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015 [TED 1.15], (1999, January 20).
  • Chemical Hazard Communication. OSHA Publication 3084, (Revised 1998). Also available as a 248 KB PDF, 31 pages. Gives an overview of chemical hazard communication.

  • Documentation for Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health Concentrations (IDLH): NIOSH Chemical Listing and Documentation of Revised IDLH Values. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Documents the criteria and information sources that have been used by NIOSH to determine immediately dangerous to life or health concentrations (IDLHs).

  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Provides a table of contents of guidelines for many hazardous chemicals. The files provide technical chemical information, including chemical and physical properties, health effects, exposure limits, and recommendations for medical monitoring, personal protective equipment (PPE), and control procedures.

  • National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 99-130, (1999). Discusses five of the NORA priority areas categorized by work environment and workforce. Research has shown that physiologic interactions from some mixed exposures can lead to an increase in the severity of the harmful effect. For example, exposure to noise and toluene results in a two- to three-times-higher risk of hearing loss.

  • Mixed Exposures: A Report by the NORA Mixed Exposures Team. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-106, (2004, December).

  • ToxFAQs™. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Provides a series of summaries and answers to frequently asked questions about contaminants found at hazardous waste sites and hazardous substances excerpted from ATSDR's Toxicological Profiles and Public Health Statements. Each fact sheet serves as a quick and easy-to-understand guide.

  • Cleaning Solvents. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Provides links to several different fact sheets on solvent related topics.

Specific Solvents

  • Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIBs). OSHA. SHIBs are one tool OSHA uses to inform internal staff and the public of significant occupational safety and health issues concerning hazard recognition, evaluation, and control in the workplace and at emergency response sites. The scope of SHIB topics and the procedures for the development of SHIBs are outlined in the OSHA Instruction CPL 02-00-065 [CPL 2.65A]. The following SHIBs relate to solvent hazards.
  • Health Hazard Alert -- 2-Nitropropane (2-NP). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 80-142, (1980, October). Summarizes cancer studies for 2-Nitropropane. This alert has superseded the previous 1977 study:
    • 2-Nitropropane. Publication No. 78-127 (Current Intelligence Bulletin 17), (1977, April 25). Provides the results of this animal study along with other pertinent data, their implications for occupational healthy and precautions for handling 2-nitropropane in the workplace.
  • OSHA-NIOSH Hazard Alert: 1-Bromopropane. OSHA and US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2013-150, (2013, July). Provides information on 1-Bromopropane concerning hazard awareness, controls, and resources for assistance.

Exposure Evaluation

The following references provide information about the evaluation of occupational exposures to solvents:

  • Surveillance Methods for Solvent-Related Hepatotoxicity [15 KB PDF, 6 pages]. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (2001, September). Determines whether a dose-response relationship exists between hepatic surveillance end-points and cumulative or subacute exposure to solvents.

  • Chemical Sampling Information. OSHA. Presents, in concise form, data on a large number of chemical substances that may be encountered in industrial hygiene investigations. Intended as a basic reference for industrial hygienists engaged in OSHA field activity.
  • Sampling and Analytical Methods. OSHA. OSHA has developed and validated methods for use by the Salt Lake Technical Center Laboratory. These standard methods have been adopted by many laboratories for the analysis of chemical compounds.

Possible Solutions

There are many alternatives to common solvents that have potential health risks. These alternatives provide a safer work environment, and also a cleaner atmosphere. The following references provide possible solutions for solvent hazards in the workplace.

  • newTransitioning to Safer Chemicals: A Toolkit for Employers and Workers. OSHA, (2013). OSHA has developed this step-by-step toolkit to provide employers and workers with information, methods, tools, and guidance on using informed substitution in the workplace.

  • Using Duct Tape with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Hazardous Waste Sites and Related Operations. OSHA Hazard Information Bulletin (HIB), (1988, April 11). Discusses duct tape and its resistance to most solvents. However, the adhesive on the duct tape is not designed for sealing of personal protective equipment (PPE) from thousands of chemicals and is soluble in almost every type of solvent known.

  • Organic Solvents. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety & Health Topic. Contains links to controls and recommendations for various organic solvents.

  • Controlling Cleaning-Solvent Vapors at Small Printers. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Publication No. 98-107, (1998). NIOSH researchers have demonstrated a control that reduces exposures to cleaning-solvent vapors to acceptable concentrations.

  • Preventing Bladder Cancer from Exposure to o-Toluidine and Aniline. US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 90-116, (1990, December). Presents significant new epidemiologic evidence that clearly associates o-toluidine and aniline with an increased risk of bladder cancer.

  • Preventing Adverse Health Effects from Exposure to Dimethylformamide (DMF). US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 90-105, (1990, September). Describes engineering controls, good work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for controlling exposures to DMF by inhalation and skin contact.

  • Chemical Glove Selection. National Ag Safety Database (NASD), University of Delaware, Cooperative Extension. Reviews the hazards associated with exposure to chemicals.

  • Solvents. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Includes EPA's final decision not to list wastes generated from the use of 14 chemicals as solvents as hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), effective on December 21, 1998.

  • Alternative Cleaning Solvents and Processes [85 KB PDF, 4 pages]. State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Fact Sheet. Contains alternative solvents as well as recovery operations.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Other Resources

The following references are general sources for information on toxic chemicals, including solvents.

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Provides links to commonly used solvents with background and evaluation information.

  • NIST Chemistry WebBook. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), (2011). Provides an intensive chemical search that provides additional information regarding the chemical of your choice, as well as a couple of other sites of interest.

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