Toluene has been detected at all 15 sites sampled in our area since February by state inspectors. Again, like the xylenes discussed earlier in this blog, the highest level measured was near a Bartonville residence in a sample analyzed by a private lab (10.8 ppb). But among those sampled by TCEQ inspectors, the highest level measured came – again — on the high school parking lot, where 1.3 ppb was detected. The lowest detected level was .14 ppb downwind of the Fuller Family unit in August.
There is disagreement among regulators about the exposure limits in the workplace, with OSHA setting it at 200 ppm, NIOSH recommends 100 ppm, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommends 50 ppm.
Another aromatic hydrocarbon, toluene has a very distinctive odor – like paint thinner – and, as you might expect from the smell, is often used as a solvent.
The odor threshold for toluene is 8 ppm. You can taste it in your water between .04 and 1 ppm.
Many residents have reported smelling a paint thinner smell near drilling and production sites in our community.
According to Wikipedia, toluene “is widely used as an industrial feedstock and as a solvent. Like other solvents, toluene is sometimes also used as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties; however, this can potentially cause severe neurological harm.”
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, here’s how toluene can affect your health:
Toluene can cause headaches and sleepiness, and can impair your ability to think clearly.
Low to moderate, day-after-day exposure in your workplace can cause tiredness, confusion, weakness, drunken-type actions, memory loss, nausea, and loss of appetite. These symptoms usually disappear when exposure is stopped. You may experience some hearing and color vision loss after long-term daily exposure to toluene in the workplace.
You may also experience problems with your speech, vision, or hearing, have loss of muscle control, loss of memory, poor balance, and decreased mental ability. Some of these changes may be permanent.
Toluene (at high levels) could possibly damage your kidneys.
There are medical tests to determine whether you have been exposed to toluene. Although not commonly available in doctor’s office, there are easily done by special laboratories – either by having your exhaled air, blood or urine tested. However, you must be checked within 12 hours or exposure because, like xylenes, toluene is quickly metabolized in the body.
Read more about toluene here.