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What is toluene?

Toluene is in a class of chemicals called organic solvents. It is a clear, colorless liquid that has a distinctive, sweet smell. Toluene is flammable.

Where is toluene found?

Toluene occurs naturally in crude oil and in a tropical tree, called the tolu tree. When gasoline is produced from crude oil, toluene is also produced. It is found in paints, varnishes and shellacs as well as adhesives and rubber. Toluene is in nail polish, metal cleaners and antifreeze. Toluene is also used to manufacture chemicals, plastics, detergents, dyes and inks, medicines and perfumes. While toluene is used to produce these products it is not necessarily found in them.

How might I be exposed?

  • Breathing in contaminated air from the workplace or from a spill or release incident
  • Breathing auto exhaust
  • Working with gas, kerosene, heating oil, paints and lacquers
  • Drinking contaminated well water. Toluene-containing products that are dumped in landfills or from other sources of contamination like industry will enter the soil or water near the site.2

What will toluene do to me?

Toluene enters body when it evaporates into the air that you breathe. It can also be absorbed through your skin. Toluene affects your brain causing headache, nausea, dizziness, clumsiness and drowsiness. Unconsciousness and death occur at high levels.

Contact with skin can cause irritation and skin rash. Toluene will go through most clothing and can get trapped in gloves and boots. This type of exposure can cause blistering and burns.

Inhalation at high levels can irritate lungs, causing chest pain and shortness of breath. Exposure to very high levels can cause fluid buildup in lungs. This is a medical emergency.

Children may be more vulnerable to toluene.

How can I protect myself?

In the event of a spill or release, follow instructions given by emergency responders (i.e. shelter in place, evacuation, etc.). Avoid breathing in toluene from sources listed above. Test well water for toluene contamination if near a landfill. Follow precautions and instructions for handling toluene. Keep products containing toluene out of the reach of children.


In case of an emergency, contact your regional poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911 emergency services for help.

First Aid

Note: effects of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact) to substance may be delayed.

Inhalation: move to fresh air. Begin rescue breathing (using proper respiratory medical device) if breathing has stopped and CPR if heart has stopped. Get medical attention right away.

Skin contact: remove contaminated clothing. Immediately wash contaminated skin with soap and water. Pour running water over area for at least 30 minutes. Get medical attention right away.

Eye contact: rinse the whites of eyes with water for at least 30 minutes, lifting upper and lower lids. If possible, remove contact lenses while rinsing. Get medical attention right away.

Ingestion: do not make person vomit. Call Oregon Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or seek medical attention immediately.

Where can I find more information?

  • Local health department
  • Oregon Poison Center: Phone 1-800-222-1222
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ToxFAQs™ for Toluene (English and Spanish)
  • New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets for Toluene (English and Spanish)
  • U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Emergency Response Guide Book (English and Spanish)