Toluene is found in a variety of industries worldwide as it is an active ingredient in products used in construction, cosmetics, and even fuel production. It is a vital component of substances we encounter regularly so it is important to know the role that toluene plays and how to be safe around it. You likely have been closer to a product containing toluene than you have ever expected.
What is Toluene?
Toluene is a colorless liquid identified by the chemical formula C₆H₅CH₃. It is a volatile organic compound, which means that it readily transitions into a gas. This transition occurs at room temperature. Toluene has a sweet odor and is very flammable. It occurs naturally in crude oil or in the tolu tree. It is also a byproduct in the development of styrene.
Toluene Chemical Properties: Solubility, Molar Mass and Molecular Density
This volatile organic compound has a molecular mass of 92.14g/mol. It is not soluble in water. Toluene will actually float on top of water because it has a lower density, making it lighter. It has a density of 0.87 g/mL at 68 °F, while water has a density of 1 g/mL. When in its gaseous form, its vapors are heavier than air.
What is Toluene Used For?
Toluene exists in a multitude of products like adhesives, cigarettes, perfumes, pharmaceuticals and much more. The most common and well recognized uses of toluene include
1. Printing and Leather Tanning
Toluene has numerous industrial applications: it is a solvent in paints, lacquers, thinners, glues, correction fluid, and is used in the printing and leather tanning processes.
2. The Production of Gasoline
For internal combustion engines, toluene can increase gasoline octane ratings. This is because toluene is very dense and is made up a substantial amount of energy. With a higher-octane rating, the fuel is less likely to ping during combustion. This type of fuel has been used in Formula One cars.
3. Paint Projects in the Construction Industry
Interior and exterior paint contains toluene. This is because toluene helps the paint dry effectively and maintain a thin coating so that it is easy to apply.
4. Nail Salons
Toluene is an important ingredient in cosmetic fingernail polish. It is an essential ingredient because it allows the nail polish to be applied easily and appear smooth. Another nail salon essential with toluene as a key ingredient is fingernail polish remover. This is because it is very effective when it is used to dissolve other substances.
Toluene is a great solvent because other chemicals dissolve in it easily, especially other organic compounds. This makes it a common chemical in organic laboratories.
Surprisingly, toluene plays a big role in our ability to enjoy the popular beverage Coca Cola. Toluene is involved in removing the cocaine from the coca leaves, which are used to develop the famous Coca-Cola syrup.
Cautions When Using Toluene
Toluene exposure is common in numerous industries, so it is important to aware of the hazards that are associated with high exposure. The individuals most impacted by the side effects of toluene exposure are those working in the industries in which toluene is commonly used. Those individuals risk having extended contact with it in the air or on their skin.
High concentrations of toluene can negatively impact the central nervous system, kidney, liver and immune system. This can be seen in serious medical conditions such as
- Muscle weakness
- Impaired speech
- Swollen liver
- Kidney necrosis
- Brain damage
Someone that was recently exposed to high levels of toluene may exhibit symptoms like
- Loss of muscle control
- Memory loss
- Difficulty breathing
If you suspect that you or someone you know is at risk for toluene exposure seek medical attention immediately. A blood test can detect the presence of toluene in the body for 12 hours. Toluene breaks down quickly and will be removed from the body after that time frame. Make sure to move to a well-ventilated area if the exposure was in its gaseous form or wash the affected area with water if it was in its liquid form.
Toluene can potentially be an additional health hazard if it is accidentally released in the environment, contaminating soil or water. Toluene is a hazardous chemical that must remain safely contained. Proper disposal is essential for keeping our water tables safe. If a spill occurs, isolate the spill immediately and evacuate the nearby area.
More Questions About Toluene?
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“Toluene.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 June 2019, www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/toluene/default.html.
“Toluene.” ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, 1 Mar. 2021, www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/toluene/#:~:text=Toluene%20is%20typically%20used%20in%20the%20production%20of,can%20help%20dry,%20dissolve%20and%20thin%20other%20substances.
“Toluene.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Toluene.
“Toluene.” Toluene - Overview | Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov/toluene.