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ToxFAQs™ for Chloroethane
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about chloroethane. 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 chloroethane can occur from breathing air or drinking water containing it. Exposure to high levels of chloroethane can affect your nervous system, causing lack of muscle control and unconsciousness. This substance has been found in at least 282 of the 1,467 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is chloroethane?
Chloroethane is a colorless gas at room temperature and pressure. It has a characteristically sharp smell. It is a liquid when stored in pressurized containers; however, the liquid evaporates quickly when exposed to room air. Chloroethane catches fire easily.
It was used in leaded gasoline, but strict new government regulations have reduced that use dramatically. It is used in the production of cellulose, dyes, medicinal drugs, and other commercial products, and as a solvent and refrigerant.
It is also used to numb the skin before medical procedures such as ear piercing and skin biopsies and as a treatment in sports injuries.
What happens to chloroethane when it enters the environment?
- Most chloroethane exists as a gas in the atmosphere.
- It breaks down fairly rapidly (about half disappears within 40 days) by reacting with other substances in the air.
- Small amounts can enter groundwater by filtering through the soil.
- In groundwater, chloroethane is slowly changed into a simpler form by reaction with water.
- Some types of bacteria in water may break it down to smaller compounds.
How might I be exposed to chloroethane?
- Chloroethane can be released to air from factories that manufacture or use it.
- It can evaporate from landfills.
- It can be released during its use as a solvent, refrigerant, and anesthetic.
- Chloroethane may be present in drinking water as a result of chlorination.
- People may be exposed through skin contact if it is used in a medical procedure.
- Workers who may be exposed include doctors, nurses, mechanics, plumbers, and painters.
How can chloroethane affect my health?
Brief exposure to high levels can produce temporary feelings of drunkenness. At higher levels, it can cause lack of muscle coordination and unconsciousness. It can also cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation. Chloroethane is sometimes applied to the skin as a numbing agent before surgery. If it is applied for too long, frostbite can result. Some people had allergic reactions to it, and others experienced mild pain after being sprayed for 10 seconds.
How likely is chloroethane to cause cancer?
Laboratory tests in animals have shown that long-term exposure can cause cancer in mice. It is not known whether it causes cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that chloroethane is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity in humans.
How does chloroethane affect children?
We don't know whether chloroethane exposure can affect development in people. In animal studies, the babies of mice exposed to chloroethane during pregnancy had delayed development. It is not known whether children differ from adults in their susceptibility to chloroethane.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to chloroethane?
- Avoid using products that contain chloroethane if you are pregnant.
- Limit the use of consumer products that contain it.
- Open windows and doors when such products are used in the home.
- Make sure containers are tightly covered.
- Make your children aware of the harmful effects of sniffing glue, paints, and other solvents.
- Store products containing it safely and follow directions carefully.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to chloroethane?
There are complex analytical tests that chemists use to measure chloroethane in blood, milk, or urine. However, no commonly used medical tests are available to determine whether or not a person has been exposed to chloroethane.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
EPA requires industries to report accidental discharges or spills of 100 pounds or more of chloroethane to EPA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates the amount of chloroethane in workplace air. The limit for an 8-hour workday, over a 40-hour workweek, is 1,000 parts per million (1,000 ppm).
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommends a limit of 100 ppm chloroethane in workplace air.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1998. Toxicological Profile for Chloroethane. 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: October 24, 2011
- Content source: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry