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 & Protective Measures

Provides information on training workers who use materials containing toluene about the health and safety hazards of toluene, how to recognize exposure to toluene, and the protective measures that apply to the use of toluene in the specific work area.

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Occupational Exposure Limits

Provides the occupational exposure limits for toluene.

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Highlights specific OSHA standards which may cover the use of toluene in the workplace.

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Risk Assessment

Provides assistance and information about the management of occupational exposures to toluene.

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Additional Resources

Provides links and references to additional resources related to exposures to toluene.

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