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Solvents

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX B: Common chemicals and materials > Solvents


Solvents come in liquid form and are used as cleaners, added to glues to make them stronger or quicker to dry, and are part of many mixes of chemicals in shoe, garment, and electronics industries.

Most solvents quickly burn and explode when exposed to heat. They also release more vapors and fumes when heated.

There are many "families" of solvents. Here you will find these solvents: alcohol, aliphatic hydrocarbon, aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons, ester, glycol ether, and ketone. Solvents that are similar share many qualities, and are often used in the same processes. In some families, there are several chemicals that are more dangerous than other chemicals in the same family. Some entire families of solvents are dangerous to people’s health, for example, aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons. The best way to protect workers who use solvents is to ban the most dangerous solvents and find less dangerous substitutes.

The charts include only some of the solvents that exist. See Learn about chemicals used in your factory and how to find information about other solvents. See the Index of chemical names to find alternative names for solvents.

Prevent or reduce exposure:

  • Use ventilation systems that extract fumes and replace or dilute dirty air with clean air (see Chapter 17: Ventilation).
  • Enclose operations whenever possible.
  • Do not mix or pour solvents by hand.
  • Use gloves when workers are handling solvents directly (cleaning). Wear correct respirators that fit you. All protective clothing should be clean, available each day, put on before work, and never taken home with you (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).
  • Have an emergency plan that includes first aid treatment and protective equipment for spills, splashes, and accidental exposures. Keep necessary emergency supplies at the work site well stocked and accessible to workers.
  • Work areas where solvents are used, stored, and mixed need to be controlled for heat and monitored for concentration of fumes and vapors. The work areas should also have alarms, fire extinguishers, and a fire emergency plan (see Chapter 11: Fire).


Alcohol solvents


Ethyl alcohol (ethanol, ethyl hydrate, ethyl hydroxide) CAS No. 64-17-5

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health

might cause cancer



Isopropyl alcohol (2-propanol, IPA) CAS No. 67-63-0

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health




Methyl alcohol (Carbinol, methanol, methylol) CAS No. 67-56-1

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health



WHAT ARE THEY?
Alcohol solvents are colorless liquids. Ethanol smells a little like wine. IPA smells musty. Methanol has a slightly sweet odor.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Alcohol solvents are used as cleaners. They are used to make rubber for shoes, to spot clean fabric, to electroplate, and in printed circuit boards. IPA and methanol are the most common.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They irritate your skin. After continued or repeated exposure to alcohols, you may develop a skin rash, redness, and dryness. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. See First Aid.

EYES

They irritate, burn, and can cause permanent damage to the eyes. Methanol will blur your vision and can cause blindness. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes can irritate your nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Breathing the vapors can make you feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath, and even pass out. IPA can slow down your pulse and lower your blood pressure, and at high levels it can cause hallucinations. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Larger amounts could cause loss of consciousness. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All alcohols can harm your liver, kidneys, and nervous system. Alcohols can enter into a mother’s milk and pass to a baby through breastfeeding.

Ethanol can cause miscarriages, birth defects, and other problems. It may cause cancer of the liver, esophagus, breast, prostate, and colorectum.

Isopropyl alcohol may damage a baby in the womb.

Methanol may damage a baby in the womb.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use butyl gloves. Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) gloves will not protect you from alcohol solvents. If you’re working with alcohols as liquids, use indirect-vent, impact- and splash-resistant goggles (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

If there is no ventilation installed, or if you are doing maintenance work and you do not know the level of alcohol in the air, use a respirator that can filter solvents


Aliphatic hydrocarbon solvents (petroleum distillates)


2,2-Dimethylbutane (neohexane) CAS No. 75-83-2

fire or explosive





2-Methylpentane (isohexane) CAS No. 107-83-5

fire or explosive





Cyclohexane (benzene hexahydride, hexamethylene) CAS No. 110-82-7

fire or explosive





Heptane (dipropyl methane, heptyl hydride) CAS No. 142-82-5

fire or explosive





Hexane (hexyl hydride, n-hexane) CAS No. 110-54-3


Might harm reproductive health


immediate death

WHAT ARE THEY?
Aliphatic hydrocarbon solvents are colorless liquids. Hexane and heptane have a mild, gasoline-like smell. Cyclohexane has a strong, sweet smell.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Aliphatic hydrocarbon solvents are used in glues for shoes and as cleaners in electronics. They are used in surface coatings and adhesives. Cyclohexane is used to make nylon.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They can irritate and burn your skin. If they get on your skin repeatedly, your skin will become dry, cracked, and red and you might develop a rash. See First Aid.

EYES

They can irritate the eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

Inhalation of these solvents can lead to irritation of the nose and throat. Breathing the vapors can cause you to feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, and short of breath, and even pass out. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All aliphatic hydrocarbons can affect your brain, causing headaches and dizziness.

2,2-dimethylbutane can cause irregular heartbeat.

Cyclohexane may permanently damage the liver and kidney. It can cause headaches, convulsions, and other problems with the nervous system.

Heptane can cause damage to the nervous system, causing reduced coordination and personality changes, fatigue, and reduced memory and concentration.

Hexane can damage the nervous system, causing problems with coordination, memory and concentration, personality changes, and fatigue. It may damage the testes. High doses can be fatal.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use nitrile or Viton gloves and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator that can filter organic solvents.

SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Heptane is less toxic than hexane.


Aromatic hydrocarbon solvents

banned

Benzene (benzine, benzol) CAS No. 71-43-2

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

Known to cause cancer

immediate death

banned

Styrene (ethenyl benzene, vinylbenzene) CAS No. 100-42-5

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Toluene (methyl benzene, methyl benzol, toluol) CAS No. 108-88-3

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health




Xylene (dimethyl benzene, methyl toluene, xylol) CAS No. 1330-20-7

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer


WHAT ARE THEY?
Aromatic hydrocarbon solvents are clear, colorless to light yellow liquids that have sweet odors.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Aromatic hydrocarbon solvents are found in garment, shoe, and electronics factories. Toluene is a common additive for glues in shoes, and styrene is found in resins that reinforce plastics in electronics.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They irritate your skin and lead to dermatitis, which results in skin rash, dryness, redness, and a burning feeling. Benzene can cause blisters. See First Aid.

EYES

They irritate your eyes. Benzene can make you blind. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes can irritate your nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Breathing the vapors can cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, weakness, and loss of consciousness. Benzene can cause bronchitis, lung edema, and pneumonia. It can cause problems with the heart. Breathing a lot of benzene (20,000 ppm) can kill you in 10 to 15 minutes. Toluene affects the nervous system, causing difficulty thinking, slow reflexes, dilated pupils, anxiety, and weakness. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
Benzene and xylene can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Benzene can cause rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and respiratory failure, all of which can be fatal. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All aromatic hydrocarbons can damage your liver, kidneys, brain, and the nervous system.

Benzene can cause problems with the blood and destroy blood cells. This can cause aplastic anemia. It may cause birth defects. It can cause leukemia (cancer of the blood).

Styrene may cause birth defects and other reproductive health problems. It may cause lung cancer.

Toluene may cause birth defects.

Xylene may cause birth defects. It may cause cancer. Higher exposures can cause coma.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), Silver Shield, or Viton gloves. If you work with aromatic hydrocarbons as liquids, use indirect vent, impact- and splash-resistant goggles. If you are exposed to fumes, gas, or vapor forms of these solvents, use non-vented, impact-resistant goggles (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator that can filter solvents.

SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Toluene has been used as a safer alternative to benzene. However, toluene is still toxic.


Chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents

banned

Carbon tetrachloride (Freon 10, tetrachloromethane) CAS No. 56-23-5

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Dichloropropane (DCP, propylene dichloride) CAS No. 78-87-5

fire or explosive


Known to cause cancer



Methyl chloroform (1,1,1-trichloroethane, chloroethene) CAS No. 71-55-6

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Methylene chloride (DCM, dichloromethane) CAS No. 75-09-2

fire or explosive


might cause cancer



Tetrachloroethylene (PERC, carbon dichloride, ethylene tetrachloride, perchloroethylene) CAS No. 127-18-4


Might harm reproductive health

Known to cause cancer


banned

Trichloroethylene (TCE, ethinyl trichloride, trichloroethene) CAS No. 79-01-6

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health

Known to cause cancer


WHAT ARE THEY?
Chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents are colorless liquids that contain chlorine. They have a mild, sweet smell.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents are used as cleaners. They are used to make rubber for shoes, degreasers in electroplating, and as agents in wafer production and semiconductor cleaning.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They can irritate your skin. Carbon tetrachloride can burn your skin. TCE might make you allergic, and you will have a reaction even at low exposure levels. See First Aid.

EYES

They can irritate and burn the eyes. Carbon tetrachloride can make you blind if it gets in your eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes can irritate your nose and throat. Breathing the fumes can cause you to feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath, and to pass out. Often you will also have poor equilibrium, lack of coordination, mental confusion, and numb and tingling limbs. Inhaling Dichloropropane and PERC fumes can create a buildup of fluid in the lungs, called lung edema. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All chlorinated hydrocarbons can damage the liver and kidneys.

Carbon tetrachloride can lead to coma. It may damage a baby in the womb and reduce fertility in men. It may cause cancer.

Dichloropropane can cause liver cancer.

Methyl chloroform may cause miscarriages and birth defects. It also may cause liver and kidney cancer.

Methylene chloride may cause lung, liver, and breast cancer.

PERC may damage a baby in the womb, decrease fertility in men and women, and cause miscarriages. It can cause many types of cancer including liver, esophagus, bladder, lung, and leukemia (cancer of the blood).

TCE can lead to irregular heartbeat. It can cause birth defects and it can cause liver, kidney, and lung cancer.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use gloves. If you are working with these chemicals in liquid form, use indirect-vent, impact- and splash resistant goggles. If you are exposed to fumes, gas, or vapors, use non-vented goggles (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator that can filter solvents.
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Bromopropane has been used as a safer substitute for TCE. But it can cause cancer so it is not a real solution.
Ester solvents


Butyl acetate (butyl ethanoate, n-butyl ester) CAS No. 123-86-4

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health




Ethyl acetate (ethyl ethanoate) CAS No. 141-78-6

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health




Isobutyl acetate (2-methyl-1-propyl acetate, 2-methylpropyl acetate) CAS No. 110-19-0

fire or explosive




WHAT ARE THEY?
Ester solvents are colorless liquids with a pleasant, fragrant, fruity odor. Butyl acetate smells like bananas.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Ester solvents are used in garments, shoes, and electronics as glues, surface cleaners, and to make plastic materials.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They can irritate and burn your skin. If they get on your skin repeatedly, your skin will become dry, cracked, and red and you might develop a rash. See First Aid.

EYES

They can irritate and burn the eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes can irritate your nose and throat. Breathing the vapors can cause you to feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath, and to pass out. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

Butyl acetate may damage a baby in the womb. Butyl acetate can irritate your lungs and damage your nervous system. You may develop bronchitis along with coughing, phlegm, and shortness of breath.

Ethyl acetate may damage liver and kidneys. It may decrease fertility in men.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use neoprene or butyl rubber gloves and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use respirator that can filter solvents.


Glycol ether solvents
ETHYLENE-BASED GLYCOL ETHERS
These are more toxic and have “ethanol” or “ethylene” in the name.


Ethylene glycol butyl ether (EGBE, 2-butoxyethanol, Butyl Cellosolve) CAS No. 111-76-2

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Ethylene glycol ethyl ether (EGEE, 2-ethoxyethanol, Ethyl Cellosolve) CAS No. 110-80-5

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health



banned

Ethylene glycol methyl ether (EGME, 2-methoxyethanol, Methyl Cellosolve) CAS No. 109-86-4

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health



PROPYLENE-BASED GLYCOL ETHERS
These are less toxic and have “propanol” or “propylene” in their name.


1-Methoxy 2-propanol (propylene glycol methyl ether) CAS No. 107-98-2

fire or explosive





2-Methoxy 1-propanol (1-propylene glycol-2-methyl ether, propylene glycol monomethylether) CAS No. 1589-47-5

fire or explosive

Harms reproductive health



WHAT ARE THEY?
Glycol ether solvents are colorless liquids. They have a mild, pleasant smell or no smell at all.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Glycol ether solvents are used as cleaners, dyes, and coatings in shoe, garment and electronics factories. They are often ingredients of proprietary mixes.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They irritate and burn your skin. You may develop a skin rash, redness, and dryness. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. See First Aid.

EYES

They irritate and burn your eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

Some glycol ethers evaporate quickly and can easily be inhaled. Their fumes can irritate your nose and throat, causing coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Breathing the vapors can cause you to feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, disoriented, and tired. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All glycol ethers can harm your liver, kidneys, and nervous system, causing trembling and weakness. Glycol ethers can enter mother’s milk and pass to a baby through breastfeeding. 

Ethylene-based glycol ethers can cause anemia by damaging red blood cells and bone marrow. Some ethylene-based glycol ethers can decrease fertility in women and men and damage the baby in the womb.

Ethylene glycol butyl ether may cause liver cancer.

Ethylene glycol ethyl ether is slightly less toxic, but can also decrease fertility in women and men and harm the baby in the womb.

Ethylene glycol methyl ether can cause changes in personality, memory loss, and chronic headaches. Breathing large amounts may damage the spleen and produce bloody urine. It can decrease fertility in women and men, damage the testes, and is extremely toxic to the baby in the womb.

Propylene-based glycol ethers are less dangerous than ethylene-based glycol ethers.

2-methoxy, 1-propanol can damage the baby in the womb.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use butyl rubber gloves. If these are not available, use neoprene or nitrile gloves. Use eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator that can filter glycol ethers.
SAFER SUBSTITUTIONS:
Glycol ethers such as propyl ether, isopropyl ether, and phenyl ether are less harmful to the reproductive organs and baby inside the womb. Propylene-based glycol ethers are safer than ethylene-based glycol ethers.


Ketone solvents


Acetone (2-propanone, dimethyl ketone, pyroacetic acid) CAS No. 67-64-1

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health



banned

Methyl butyl ketone (MBK, butyl methyl ketone, hexan-2-one, methyl n-butyl ketone) CAS No. 591-78-6

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health



banned

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK, 2-butanone, butanone, ethyl methyl ketone) CAS No. 78-93-3

fire or explosive

Might harm reproductive health




Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK, 4-methyl-2-pentanone, isobutyl methyl ketone) CAS No. 108-10-1

fire or explosive


might cause cancer


WHAT ARE THEY?
Ketone solvents are colorless liquids that have a pleasant, sweet or mint-like smell.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Ketone solvents are added to glues for shoes. They are used in surface coatings on electronics, as adhesives for PVC pipes, and as cleaners in shoes, garments, and electronics. MIBK is added to the rubber in shoes.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They can cause skin irritation. If they get on your skin repeatedly, your skin will become dry, cracked, and red and you might develop a rash. See First Aid.

EYES

They can irritate and burn the eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes can irritate your nose and throat, causing coughing and wheezing. Breathing the vapors can cause you to feel weak, dizzy, lightheaded, short of breath, and to pass out. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY
They can lead to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.
WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

All ketones can damage the nervous system causing weakness and poor coordination in the hands and feet. They can damage the liver and kidneys.

MBK and acetone may reduce fertility in men. Acetone may cause miscarriages.

MEK may cause birth defects. 

MIBK may cause cancer.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use butyl rubber gloves and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment). 

Use a respirator that can filter organic solvents.



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