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ToxFAQs™ for Dinitrotoluenes
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions (FAQs) about dinitrotoluenes. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. It is important you understand this information because these substances 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.Highlights
Most people will not be exposed to significant levels of DNT. People living near munitions facilities may be exposed via ingestion of contaminated water or from skin contact with contaminated soil. Exposure to high levels may affect the nervous system and the blood. DNT has been found in at least 98 of the 1,699 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is dinitrotoluene?
Dinitrotoluene (DNT) is a mixture of six chemicals called isomers. These isomers have the same molecular weight and chemical structure, but differ in the position of a chemical group on the benzene ring. The isomers 2,4-DNT and 2,6-DNT make up 95% of technical grade DNT. The other isomers (2,3-, 2,5-, 3,4-, and 3,5-DNT) comprise 5% of DNT.
DNT is a synthetic substance used primarily as chemical intermediate for the production of toluene diisocyanate. It is also used in the production of trinitrotoluene (TNT), dyes, and polyurethane foams.
What happens to DNT when it enters the environment?
- DNT has been found in the soil, surface and ground water, and air. Most commonly, around manufacturing facilities or contaminated waste sites.
- DNT is slowly broken down in water by microbial organisms and it can be broken down by sunlight in surface water.
- DNT does not adsorb strongly to soil. Therefore, it can move from soil into groundwater, where it can contaminate drinking water.
How might I be exposed to DNT?
- Most people will not be exposed to DNT.
- Breathing contaminated air or touching contaminated soil near manufacturing plants.
- Drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.
- Breathing air or touching soil near a hazardous waste site that contains buried ammunition wastes.
How can DNTs affect my health?
Animal studies have shown that breathing vapors or aerosols of DNTs can damage the lungs. Breathing or ingesting very high levels of DNTs may cause death.
A study of workers reported a relationship between heart disease and long-term exposure to DNT. Animal studies have shown that ingesting DNT causes anemia and damage to the nervous system, male reproductive system, and liver.
How likely are DNTs to cause cancer?
Studies of workers have not indicated whether DNTs cause cancer. Laboratory animals ingesting DNTs during most of their lives developed cancer of the liver and tumors in the kidneys.
The EPA says a mixture of 2,4- and 2,6-DNT is probably carcinogenic to humans, based on findings of cancer in animal studies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says 2,4- and 2,6-DNT are probably carcinogenic to humans, but it cannot be determined whether 3,5-DNT is carcinogenic to humans.
How can DNT affect children?
There is no information regarding health effects in children or young animals exposed to DNTs.
We do not know whether DNTs can harm the unborn child. Studies in animals show that babies of mothers exposed to DNTs during pregnancy can have anemia and nervous system damage at birth. These effects are similar to those seen in adult animals.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to DNTs?
- Prevent children from playing in soil contaminated with DNT, as it may occur near ammunition producing facilities.
- If you use well water and live near an ammunition producing facility it may be a good idea to have the water tested for DNT and other contaminants.
- DNT is not often detected in drinking water supplies.
Is there a medical test to determine whether I've been exposed to DNT?
DNT and its breakdown products (metabolites) can be measured in urine. However, the detection of DNTs or metabolites cannot predict the kind of health effects that might develop from that exposure. Because DNTs and their metabolites leave the body fairly rapidly, the tests need to be conducted within days after exposure. These tests are not usually available in a doctorâ€™s office, but they can be performed in special laboratories.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The EPA has determined that exposure to 2,4-DNT in drinking water at concentrations of 1 mg/L for 1 or 10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a child.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) set a legal limit of 1.5 mg/m3 DNT in air averaged over an 8-hour work day.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a limit of 1.5 mg/m3 DNT in air averaged over a 10 hour work day.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2013. Toxicological Profile for Dinitrotoluenes (Draft for Public Comment). 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:
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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: July 12, 2013
- Page last updated: July 12, 2013
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry