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ToxFAQs™ for 1,2-Dichloroethane
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about 1,2-dichloroethane. For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. 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.
Exposure to 1,2-dichloroethane usually occurs by breathing contaminated air in workplaces that use 1,2-dichloroethane. Breathing or ingesting high levels of 1,2-dichloroethane can cause damage to the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and lungs and may cause cancer. This substance has been found in at least 570 of the 1,585 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is 1,2-dichloroethane?
1,2-Dichloroethane, also called ethylene dichloride, is a manufactured chemical that is not found naturally in the environment. It is a clear liquid and has a pleasant smell and sweet taste.
The most common use of 1,2-dichloroethane is in the production of vinyl chloride which is used to make a variety of plastic and vinyl products including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, furniture and automobile upholstery, wall coverings, housewares, and automobile parts. It is also used to as a solvent and is added to leaded gasoline to remove lead.
What happens to 1,2-dichloroethane when it enters the environment?
- Most of the 1,2-dichloroethane released to the environment is released to the air. In the air, 1,2-dichloroethane breaks down by reacting with other compounds formed by sunlight. It can stay in the air for more than 5 months before it is broken down.
- 1,2-Dichloroethane can also be released into rivers and lakes. It breaks down very slowly in water and most of it will evaporate to the air.
- 1,2-Dichloroethane released in soil will either evaporate into the air or travel down through the soil and enter underground water.
How might I be exposed to 1,2-dichloroethane?
- The general population may be exposed to 1,2-dichloroethane by breathing air or drinking water that contains 1,2-dichloroethane.
- People who work or live near a factory where 1,2-dichloroethane is used, may be exposed to higher than usual levels.
- People living near uncontrolled hazardous waste sites may also be exposed to higher than usual levels of 1,2-dichloroethane.
How can 1,2-dichloroethane affect my health?
Nervous system disorders, liver and kidney diseases, and lung effects have been reported in humans ingesting or inhaling large amounts of 1,2-dichloroethane.
In laboratory animals, breathing or ingesting large amounts of 1,2-dichloroethane have also caused nervous system disorders and liver, kidney, and lung effects. Animal studies also suggest that 1,2-dichloroethane may damage the immune system. Kidney disease has also been seen in animals ingesting low doses of 1,2-dichloroethane for a long time. Studies in animals indicate that 1,2-dichloroethane does not affect reproduction.
How likely is 1,2-dichloroethane to cause cancer?
Human studies examining whether 1,2-dichloroethane can cause cancer have been considered inadequate. In animals, increases in the occurrence of stomach, mammary gland, liver, lung, and endometrium cancers have been seen following: inhalation, oral, and dermal exposure.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that 1,2-dichloroethane may reasonably be expected to cause cancer. The EPA has determined that 1,2-dichloroethane is a probable human carcinogen and the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) considers it to be a possible human carcinogen.
How can 1,2-dichloroethane affect children?
We do not know if exposure to 1,2-dichloroethane will result in birth defects or other developmental effects in people. Studies in animals suggest that 1,2-dichloroethane does not produce birth defects.
It is likely that health effects seen in children exposed to high levels of 1,2-dichloroethane will be similar to the effects seen in adults.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to 1,2-dichloroethane?
The general population is not likely to be exposed to large amounts of 1,2-dichloroethane. In the past, it was used in small amounts in household products such as cleaning agents, pesticides, and wallpaper and carpet glue. Risk of exposure from this source could be eliminated if these older products were immediately discarded.
Children should avoid playing in soils near uncontrolled hazardous waste sites where 1,2-dichloroethane may have been discarded.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to 1,2-dichloroethane?
Tests are available to measure 1,2-dichloroethane in breath, blood, breast milk, and urine of exposed people. Because 1,2-dichloroethane leaves the body fairly quickly, these tests need to be done within a couple of days of exposure. These tests cannot be used to predict the nature or severity of toxic effects. These tests are not usually done in the doctor's office.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The EPA allows 0.005 milligrams of 1,2-dichloroethane per liter of drinking water (0.005 mg/L).
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a limit of 50 parts of 1,2-dichloroethane per million parts of air (50 ppm) in workplace air for 8 hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2001. Toxicological Profile for 1,2-Dichloroethane. Update. 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
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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: October 24, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry