Short-term exposure to high levels of toluene results first in light-headedness and euphoria, followed by dizziness, sleepiness, unconsciousness, and in some cases death. When exposure is stopped prior to death the symptoms disappear. Long-term exposures at low levels have caused effects to the kidneys. Long-term exposures to high amounts of toluene by intentional abuse have been linked to permanent brain damage. Also reported are problems with speech, vision, and hearing, loss of muscle control, loss of memory and balance and reduced scores of psychological tests.
Entering the body
Toluene will enter the body if we breathe in contaminated air, breathe in tobacco smoke, or consume food or water that contains toluene. It can also be absorbed through the skin, if liquid toluene is in contact with the skin. Human exposure occurs mainly by breathing air containing toluene. Toluene usually leaves the body with in twelve hours.
Consumers are most likely to be exposed to toluene by smoking or using consumer products containing toluene (paints, varnish, nail polish, paint cleaners, stain removers, etc.) especially if there is not good ventilation. Because toluene is used in many consumer products, and found in tobacco smoke, short-term indoor concentrations may be elevated above the levels considered safe for workers. Workers in the industries that use or produce toluene are at risk of exposure. Consumers can also be exposed to toluene by exposure to air from production and processing facilities using toluene, and automotive exhaust. Sniffing glue or paint can also lead to high exposures.
The eight hour time weighted average (TWA) exposure limit is 100 parts per million and the short term exposure limit (STEL) is 150 parts per million.
Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (NHMRC and ARMCANZ, 1996):
Health: Maximum of 0.8 mg/L (i.e. 0.0008 g/L)
Aesthetic: Maximum of 0.025 mg/L (i.e. 0.000025 g/L)
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