Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid which becomes a vapor when exposed to air at room temperature. Toluene vapor has a sharp or sweet odor, which is a sign of exposure.
Toluene is typically used in a mixture with other solvents and chemicals such as paint pigments. Products that may contain toluene-such as paint, metal cleaners and adhesives-are used in many industries and can be found in many workplaces. Gasoline and other fuels also contain toluene. Workers using toluene-containing paints, varnishes, shellac, nail polish, glues and adhesives, rust preventives or printing inks may be exposed to toluene.
Workers can be exposed to toluene by breathing it in, getting it on their skin, getting it splashed into their eyes, or swallowing it. These types of exposures may make workers sick immediately or cause effects over time. Toluene exposures have been studied in nail salons and printing establishments, auto repair, and construction activities.
Without proper ventilation and safety precautions, toluene can cause irritated eyes, nose, and throat; dry or cracked skin; headache, dizziness, feeling of being drunk, confusion and anxiety. Symptoms worsen as exposure increases, and long term exposure may lead to tiredness, slow reaction, difficulty sleeping, numbness in the hands or feet, or female reproductive system damage and pregnancy loss. If swallowed, toluene can cause liver and kidney damage. More information about the health hazards of toluene is available here.
OSHA's exposure limits for toluene have been set to prevent effects of long term exposure on the nervous system, however, workers frequently experience symptoms of toluene exposure in activities where exposures are lower than OSHA's present exposure limits. Learn more about exposure limits here.
Toluene is also flammable, and its vapors can be ignited by flames, sparks or other ignition sources.
This page links to additional information about:
- Health Hazards and Protective Measures
- Occupational Exposure Limits
- OSHA Standards
- Authoritative Risk Assessment Information from US Government Agencies
- Other Resources
How can OSHA help?
For questions or to get more information, call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). OSHA has developed this webpage to provide workers and employers useful, up-to-date information on exposure to toluene in the workplace.
For other valuable information on worker protection, workers' rights, employer responsibilities and other services OSHA offers, see OSHA's Workers page.
Business owners can also contact OSHA's On-site Consultation Program, which offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses to help them identify and correct hazards and improve their injury and illness prevention programs. On-site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. To request Consultation services, visit OSHA's On-site Consultation Program page or call 1-800-321-6742 to find an office in your area.