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Public Health Statement for Chlorobenzene
This Public Health Statement is the summary chapter from the Toxicological Profile for chlorobenzene. It is one in a series of Public Health Statements about hazardous substances and their health effects. A shorter version, the ToxFAQs™, is also available. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737.
This Statement was prepared to give you information about chlorobenzene and to emphasize the human health effects that may result from exposure to it. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified 1,177 sites on its National Priorities List (NPL). Chlorobenzene has been found at 97 of these sites. However, we do not know how many of the 1,177 NPL sites have been evaluated for chlorobenzene. As EPA evaluates more sites, the number of sites at which chlorobenzene is found may change. The information is important for you because chlorobenzene may cause harmful health effects and because these sites are potential or actual sources of human exposure to chlorobenzene.
When a chemical is released from a large area, such as an industrial plant, or from a container, such as a drum or bottle, it enters the environment as a chemical emission. This emission, which is also called a release, does not always lead to exposure. You can be exposed to a chemical only when you come into contact with the chemical. You may be exposed to it in the environment by breathing, eating, or drinking substances containing the chemical or from skin contact with it.
If you are exposed to a hazardous substance such as chlorobenzene, several factors will determine whether harmful 'health effects will occur and what the type and severity of those health effects will be. These factors include the dose (how much), the duration (how long), the route or pathway by which you are exposed (breathing, eating, drinking, or skin contact), the other chemicals to which you are exposed, and your individual characteristics such as age, sex, nutritional status, family traits, life style, and state of health.
1.1 What is chlorobenzene?
Chlorobenzene is a colorless liquid with an almondlike odor. The compound does not occur widely in nature, but is manufactured for use as a solvent (a substance used to dissolve other substances) and is used in the production of other chemicals. Chlorobenzene persists in soil (several months), in air (3.5 days), and water (less than 1 day).
1.2 How might I be exposed to chlorobenzene?
There is potential for humans to be exposed to chlorobenzene by breathing contaminated air, by drinking water or eating food contaminated with chlorobenzene, or by getting chlorobenzene contaminated soil on the skin. These exposures are most likely to occur in the workplace or in the vicinity of chemical waste sites.
Occupational exposure occurs primarily through breathing the chemical. Personnel engaged in the production and handling of chlorobenzene would be at greatest risk. Levels of chlorobenzene in the air at several industrial sites during normal operations were found to be below allowable federal standards. Exposure in humans could occur in persons living or working in the vicinity of hazardous waste sites if emissions to water, air, and soil are not adequately controlled.
Chlorobenzene has been found at 97 out of 1,177 NPL hazardous waste sites in the United States. Thus, federal and state surveys suggest that chlorobenzene is not a widespread environmental contaminant. The chemical has not been detected in surface water, although a few ground water systems have been found with chlorobenzene levels in the parts per billion (ppb) range. Background levels of less than 1 ppb were detected in air samples from urban and suburban areas. No information of the occurrence of chlorobenzene in food has been found.
1.3 How can chlorobenzene enter and leave my body?
Chlorobenzene enters your body when you breathe in air containing it, when you drink water or eat food containing it, or when it comes in contact with your skin. Human exposure to contaminated water could occur near hazardous waste sites where chlorobenzene is present. Significant exposure to chlorobenzene is not expected to occur by getting chlorobenzene contaminated soil on your skin. When chlorobenzene enters your body, most of it is expelled from your lungs in the air we breathe out and in urine.
1.4 How can chlorobenzene affect my health?
Workers exposed to high levels of chlorobenzene complained of headaches, numbness, sleepiness, nausea, and vomiting. However, it is not known if chlorobenzene alone was responsible for these health effects since the workers may have also been exposed to other chemicals at the same time. Mild to severe depression of functions of parts of the nervous system is a common response to exposure to a wide variety of industrial solvents (a substance that dissolves other substances).
In animals, exposure to high concentrations of chlorobenzene affects the brain, liver, and kidneys. Unconsciousness, tremors and restlessness have been observed. The chemical can cause severe injury to the liver and kidneys. Data indicate that chlorobenzene does not affect reproduction or cause birth defects. Studies in animals have shown that chlorobenzene can produce liver nodules, providing some but not clear evidence of cancer risk.
1.5 What levels of exposure have resulted in harmful effects?
It is not known what levels of exposure to chlorobenzene result in harmful health effects in people. In animals, exposure to 75 parts per million (ppm) chlorobenzene in air or approximately 2,000– 5,000 ppm in food resulted in liver and kidney damage.
1.6 Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to chlorobenzene?
Exposure to chlorobenzene can be determined by measuring the chemical or its metabolite in urine, exhaled air, blood, and body fat. Tests are not routinely available at the doctor's office. Specific tests are available that can determine if exposure is currently occurring or has occurred very recently, but not whether exposure occurred in the past. Further, levels in the various media stated above do not predict adverse health effects.
1.7 What recommendations has the federal government made to protect human health?
The EPA has set a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 0.1 parts per million (0.1 ppm) for chlorobenzene in drinking water. Concentrations in drinking water for short-term exposures (up to 10 days) should not exceed 2 ppm. The EPA recommends that levels of chlorinated benzenes (a group of chemicals that includes chlorobenzene) in lakes and streams should be limited to 0.488 ppm to prevent possible health effects from drinking water or eating fish contaminated with this group of chemicals. Any release to the environment greater than 100 pounds of chlorobenzene must be reported to the EPA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a workplace air concentration limit of 75 ppm over an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.
The federal recommendations have been updated as of July 1999.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1990. Toxicological profile for chlorobenzene.. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.
Information line and technical assistance:
To order toxicological profiles, contact:
National Technical Information Service
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
Phone: 800-553-6847 or 703-605-6000
Some PDF files may be electronic conversions from paper copy or other electronic ASCII text files. This conversion may have resulted in character translation or format errors. Users are referred to the original paper copy of the toxicological profile for the official text, figures, and tables. Original paper copies can be obtained via the directions on the toxicological profile home page, which also contains other important information about the profiles.
The information contained here was correct at the time of publication. Please check with the appropriate agency for any changes to the regulations or guidelines cited.
- Page last reviewed: March 3, 2011
- Page last updated: March 3, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry