Industrial Solvents(TCE,TCA,PCE,DICE) and Other Organic Solvents

1. Organic solvents include the aliphatic hydrocarbons(pentanes,hexanes,octanes), aromatic hydrocarbons(benzene, toluene, xylene, styrene), chlorinated derivatives(TCE,PCE, 1,1,1-trichloroethane), and glycol ethers(ethylene glycol monoethyl ether). There is strong evidence that all are reproductive or developmental toxins(30) and increase the rate of spontaneous abortions for exposed women by a factor of 2 to 4 times(11). Women exposed to organic solvents also have been found to have deceased fertility(17), increased rate of preclampsia(18), and to be more than 10 times as likely to deliver a child with a major birth defect(30). Wives of men exposed to organic solvents also appear to have slightly higher rates of spontaneous abortions(12), increased risk of low birth-weight babies(13), and birth defects(14). A review of studies by NIOSH/CDC found that organic solvents have caused serious adverse health effects to exposed workers(32), including peripheral nerve damage, motor, and neurobehavioral effects such as fatigability, irritability, memory impairment, depression, decreased concentration and learning ability, multiple chemical sensitivity(35-39), etc.   Animal studies also support these assessments.

2. Organic solvents in tap water and sewage effluent have been found to cause central nervous system impairment(9). Inhalation and skin exposure were found to offer as much body exposure as ingestion, so ingestion alone is not the only exposure source to consider(19). Workers in wastewater treatment plants who had the greatest exposure to volatile organic solvents had the most central nervous system effects.

Organic solvents have been found to have significant correlations with birth defects, including cleft palate, cardiovascular malformations,spina bifida, deafness, and central nervous system defects(16,30). Organic solvents and formaldehyde have also been found to be factors in neurologic diseases and multiple chemical sensitivities(31,35-39).

3. An Arizona study found 2.5 times more heart defects in babies born to people drinking water from trichloroethylene (TCE) contaminated wells at home or work than to unexposed individuals(15). Animal studies have also shown TCE to cause birth defects(1). A study of families drinking water contaminated with TCE in Woburn, Mass. found higher rates of leukemia and birth defects than normal(2). Children drinking the water were also found to have high rates of urinary tract and lung disease. Studies have linked TCE to cancer as well as heart, respiratory, and nervous system disorders(3).

4. Families using wells contaminated with TCA (1,1,1-trichloroethane) in Santa Clara County, California, experienced a doubling of the misarrange rate and a tripling of the birth defect rate. Heart defects were the largest category of birth defects found. This is consistent with past animal studies(4).

5. There is a significant positive correlation between the presence of detectable 1-2 dichloroethane in drinking water and the rate of colon and rectal cancer(5).

6. Between 1980 and 1982, the rate of occupational illness among semiconductor workers in California was 300% higher than for manufacturing in general(6).

7. Children whose father was exposed to chlorinated solvents or Methyl Ethyl Ketone during pregnancy or early childhood were at least 2.2 times more likely to develop childhood leukemia(7). Parental exposure to gasoline/benzene has also been found to be significantly associated with childhood leukemia(20).

8. Perchloroethylene, the solvent most used in dry-cleaning, has been shown to cause cancer of the kidney and liver in animal studies, as well as leukemia. Studies in the U.S. and Europe of people working in dry cleaning facilities have found high levels of breast and liver cancer. Perchloroethylene(PCE) has been found to be associated with reduced fertility(23) and increased spontaneous abortions(24). Studies of women working with or commonly exposed to PCE have high levels in their breast milk(25). Buildings next door to or over dry cleaning facilities have been found to have very high levels of perchloroethylene, with high levels found in foods in neighboring grocery stores(8). Over a thousand public and private wells have been contaminated by perchloroethylene in Florida.

9. Parental exposure to organic solvents including gasoline, methyl-ethyl-ketone, ,TCE, freon have been found to be significantly associated with childhood brain tumors(21). Studies of parental exposure to organic solvents also consistently show elevated risk of cancers of the urinary tract(22).

10. Women exposed to toluene have been found to have very high rates of spontaneous abortions, 2 to 9 times normal rates(26) and higher birth defect rates(27). Hormonal changes in men and women have also been observed.

Xylene has also been found to associated with reproductive problems, spontaneous abortions, and birth defects(28)

11. Glycol Ethers have been found to lower male sperm counts and cause increased risk of spontaneous abortions(29). In a study of male fertility, men with poorer sperm quality were significantly more likely to have been exposed to organic solvents compared to men with normal sperm quality(33).

12.  Volatile organic chemicals and organic solvents have been documented to cause multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and sick building syndrome(35-40).  Organic solvents have been found to be TRPV1 agonists, which increases NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) activity.  NMDA activity produces increases nitric oxide and increases the related oxidant product ONOO- , which act to lower mitochondrial function and thus adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation. This has been documented to cause MCS and chronic fatigue. Chlorine, carbon monoxide, and many other chemicals have been found to cause similar conditions.


(1) Dr. S. Goldberg et al, University of Arizona Health Services Center, Tuscon,Ariz. 1987 & Citizens Clearing House for Hazardous Waste newsletter, Dec 1992.

(2) "The Woburn,Massachussetts Study of People Drinking Water Contaminated by a Toxic Waste Dump", School of Public Health, Harvard University,1984 & S.Lagakos et al, J Am Statistical Assoc, 81:583-596, 1984 & J.J.Cutler, Public Health Reports 101: 201-205, 1986; & J.L.Durant et al, Env Health Persp., 103(Suppl 6): 93-98, 1995.

(3) CCHW Action Bulletin, October 1987,(Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste) & J. Tikkanen et al, Am J Ind Med 14:1-8, 1988.

(4) S.Swan et al,"Pregnancy Outcomes in Santa Clara County,1980-1982: Summaries of Two Epidemiological Studies", 1985, California Dept. of Health Services, 2151 Berkeley Way , Berkeley, Calif.,94704 & L.E. Sever, Occ Med State of the Art Reviews, 9:471-494, 1994.

(5) P. Isacson et al,"Drinking Water and Cancer Incidence in Iowa;

American Journal of Epidemiology,1985,121:856-859.

(6) Study reported in Silicon Valley Toxic News, Fall 1986.

(7) R. Lowengart et al, "Childhood Leukemia and Parents Occupational and Home Exposures", Journal of the American Cancer Institute, Vol 79, No. 1, July 1987.

(8) World Watch Magazine, May 1993.

(9) Science News, Vol 149, Feb 10,1996, p84; & A. Bhattacharya, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Jan 1996; & C.P. Weisel et al, Environmental Health Perspectives, Jan 1996.

(10) H.N. MacFarland, "Toxicology of Solvents", Am Ind Hyg Assoc; 47:704-7,1986.

(11) M.L.Lindbohm et al, Scand J Work Environ Health 18:Suppl 2:37-9,1992; &

M.L. Lindbohm et al, Am J Ind Med 17:449-463; 1990; & H.Taskinen et al, JOM, 36:311- 319; 1994; & J.A.Lipscomb et al, JOM 33:597-604;1994; & H.Pastides et al, JOM 30:543-551, 1994; & G.C.Windham et al, Am J Ind Med, 20:241-259, 1991; & H.T. Taskinen, (Review), Scan J Work Environ Health, 16:297-314,1990; & E.L.Baker, (Review), JOM 36:1079-1092, 1994. (12) K.T. Kelsey et al, Environ Res, 50:248-255, 1989; & H.Taskinen et al, Scand J Work Environ Health, 15:345-352, 1989.

(13) B.Eskenazi et al, "...PCE...", Am J Ind Med 20:593-600, 1991 .

(14) J.D. Brender et al, Am J Epi 131:517-521, 1990; & J. Olsen, Dan Med Bull 30:24-28, 1983; & S.M.Strakowski et al, Lancet 2:1458, 1987.

(15) S.J.Goldberg et al, Journ Am Coll Cardiol 16: 155-164, 1990.

(16) P.C.Holmberg et al, "Oral Clefts and Organic Solvent Exposure During Pregnancy", Int Arch Occup Environ health, 50:371-6, 1982; &

J. Tikkanen et al, "Cardiovascular Malformations and Organic Solvent Exposure" Am J Ind Med 14:1-8, 1988; & P.C. Holmberg, "CNS Defects...",

The Lancet 2: 177-179, 1979.

(17) M. Sallmen et al, Am J Ind Med, 27:699-713, 1995.

(18) B. Eskenazi et al, Am J Ind Med, 14: 177-188, 1988; & N.K. Hollenberg,

in:Harrison's Principals of Internal Medicine, 11th ed,McGraw-Hill,1987;p1204

(19) J.D. Beavers et al, JOEM, 38: 35-38, 1996.

(20) X.O.Shu et al, Cancer,62:635-644,1988; & N.J. Vianna et al, 1984,JOM 26:679-

(21) J.Peters et al, Science, 213:235-236, 1981; & J.H.Olsen et al, Eur J Cancer, 27:958-965,1991; & J.M.Peters et al, Natl Cancer Inst Monograph 69:157-161, 1985; & j.Fabia et al, Br.J Prev Soc Med, 28:98-100, 1974; & E.B. Gold et al, Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews,1994,9:495- (22) A.F.Kantar et al, J Epi Commun health, 33:253-256,1979; &

S.L.Kwa et al JOM 22:792-794; 1980 & E.B.Gold et al, Occupational Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 9:495-539, 1994; & L.M. O'Leary et al, Am J Ind Med,

20:17-35, 1991.

(23) B. Eskenazi et al, Am J Ind Med 20:593-600, 1991; & M. Sallmen et al,

Am J Ind Med, 27:699-713,1995; & J,Olsen, JOM 253:394-402,1983.

(24) H.Taskinen et al, J Epi Commun Health 43:346-351,1981; & G.C.Windham et al, Am J Ind Med, 20:241-259, 1991.

(25) P.C. Bagnell et al, CMA Journal, 5:1047-48, 1977; & J.S. Schreiber, Risk Analysis 13:515-524, 1993.

(26) M.L.Lindbohm et al, AmJ Ind Med 17:449-463,1990; & T.P. Ng et al,

Br J Indust Med 49:804-8, 1992; & H. Taskinen et al, Scand J Work Environ Health, 14:345- 352, 1989.

(27) J.C. mcDonald et al, Br J INd Med 44:527-533, 1987.

(28) H.Taskinen et al, JOM 36:311-319, 1994 & P.C. Holmberg,

The Lancet, 2:177-179, 1979.

(29) L.S. Welch et al, Am J Ind Med 14:509-526, 1988 & NIOSH, HETA 85-415-1688, 1986 & H. Pastides et al, JOM, 30:543-551, 1988.

(30)S.Khattak et al, Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to organic solvents, Journal of the American Medical Asssoc., Mar 24, 1999.

(31) Lohmann K, Prohl A, Schwarz E, Multiple cehmical sensitivity disorder in patients with neurotoxic illnesses. Gesundheitswesen 1996; 58(6):322-31.

(32) U.S. Centers for Disease Control,

(33) Teilemans E et al, Occupationally related exposures and reduced semen quality. Fertility and Sterility 1999, 71(4):690-696.

(34) Ashford 98, Sarg 99, Rea 92, Ziem 97

(35) Pall, M.L. and Anderson, J.H., 2004,The vanilloid receptor as a putative target of diverse chemicals in MCS, Archives of Environmental Health, 59: 363-372.

(36) Geppetti P et al,  2008, The concept of neurogenic inflammation, British Journal of Urology, 101:2-6; &   Jia Y and Lee LY, 2007, Role of TRPV receptors in respiratory diseases, Biochmica et Biophysica Acta, 1772: 915-927; &  Planell-Cases R et al,2005, Functional aspects and mechanisms of TRPV1 involvement in neurogenic inflammation that leads to thermal hyperalgesia, Pfugers Archiv, 451:151-159; & Costa R, Marotta DM et al, 2008, Evidence for the role of neurogenci inflammation components in trypsin-elicited scratching behavior in mice, British Journal of Pharmacology, 154:1094-1103.  

(37) Welch LS and Sokas R, 1992, Development of MCS after an outbreak of sick building syndrome, Toxicology and Industrial Health, 8: 47-50; &  Davidoff AL & Keyl PM, 1996, Symptoms and health status in individuals with MCS, Archives of Environmental Health, 51: 201-213; & Arnold-Llamosas PA et al, 2006, MSC in sick building syndrome, Medicina Clinica (Barcelona), 126: 774-778; &  Miller CS, The compelling anomaly of chemical intolerance, 2001, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 993:1-19

(38) Binkley, K King N et al, 2001, Idiopathic environmental intolerance, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 107: 887-890; & Pall, M.L. NMDA sensitization and stimulation by peroxynitrite, nitric oxide, and organic solvents as the mechanism of chemical sensitivity in multiple chemical sensitivity.  The FASEB Journal, 16: 1407-1417; & Pall, M.L.,  The NO/ONOO-cycle as the cause of fibromyalgia and related illneses, In Pederson. J.A.(Ed), New Research in Fibromyalgia. Nova Science Publishers, Inc. p39-59; & Pall, M.L. , Explaining Unexplained Illnesses Disease Paradigm for Chronic Fatigue, MCS, etc., Harington Park Press (Haworth).

(39) Moncada S and Bolanos JP, 2006, Nitric oxide and the vascular endothelium, Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, 176: 213-254; & Keller JN, Kindy MS, et al, Mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase prevents neural apoptosis and reduces ischemic brain injury,  The Journal of Neuroscience, 18:687-697. 

(40) The natural history of concurrent sick building syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome; Chester AC, Levine PH; J Psychiatr Res. 1997 Jan-Feb;31(1):51-7; & Concurrent sick building syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome: epidemic neuromyasthenia revisited;  Chester AC, Levine PH; Clin Infect Dis. 1994 Jan;18 Suppl 1:S43-8.



''Chronic animal studies with a limited number of organic solvents

support the evidence for peripheral neuropathy and mild toxic

encephalopathy in solvent-exposed workers.

''Epidemiologic studies of various groups of solvent-exposed workers

have demonstrated statistically significant chronic changes in

peripheral nerve function (sensory and motor nerve onduction velocities

and electromyographic abnormalities) that persisted for months to years

following cessation of exposure. Epidemiologic studies have also shown

statistically significant increases in neurobehavioral effects in

workers chronically exposed to organic solvents. These effects include

disorders characterized by reversible subjective symptoms (fatigability,

irritability, and memory impairment), sustained changes in personality

or mood (emotional instability and diminished impulse control and

motivation), and impaired intellectual function (decreased concentration

ability, memory, and learning ability). Among organic solvent abusers,

the most severe disorders reported are characterized by irreversible

deterioration in intellect and memory (dementia) accompanied by

structural CNS damage...''


Solvent; intermediate for dyes & org synth; insecticides; aviation fuel

m-Xylene is used in the manufacturing of polyester and alkyl resins.

CHEM INTERMEDIATE for Isophthalic acid & M-Toluic acid chem;

intermediate for isophthalonitrile;

Chem intermediate for org chems-GE, Xylidenes (non-USA USE)

Xylene has also been found in ground -tap water, where tested.

For background on other chemicals, see: