What Are Routes of Exposure to Carbon Tetrachloride?

Learning Objective

After completing this section, you will be able to

  • Identify the routes of exposure to carbon tetrachloride (CCl4).

Inhalation is the primary means of exposure to CCl4. Rarely, people might ingest contaminated drinking water or absorb CCl4 through skin contact.


Inhalation is the most common route of exposure to CCl4.

Exposure can occur through breathing contaminated air

  • During work with CCl4 or
  • While near others who are working with CCl4.

CCl4 might also be inhaled from

  • Accidental spills or product use in small, enclosed spaces,
  • Landfills in which it was disposed,
  • Releases to air and water by evaporation or emissions from industrial plants, or
  • Using contaminated tap water for bathing and other household purposes.

Adolescents and others might be exposed to carbon tetrachloride by intentionally inhaling hydrocarbons.


Exposure to carbon tetrachloride by ingestion can occur through consumption of contaminated drinking water or food.

Exposure from contaminated food is possible, but is not likely to be of much significance, because levels of carbon tetrachloride in most foods are below the limit of detection [NTP 2016]. Intentional ingestions of carbon tetrachloride in homicide or suicide attempts are beyond the scope of this case study.


Although CCl4 is absorbed through the skin [Stewart and Dodd 1964; Morgan et al. 1991], no studies to date suggest that dermal absorption from contaminated water, air, or soil is a significant route of human exposure. However, direct skin exposure to a high dose of CCl4 can cause systemic effects (i.e., respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hepatic, renal, ocular, and dermal) in humans [ATSDR 2005; Gummin 2015].

Key Points
  • Sources of environmental contamination include industrial facilities and hazardous waste sites.
  • Household cleaning products containing bleach can produce volatile organic compounds, including chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. Use of these common agents might, in part, explain elevated indoor CCl4 concentrations.
  • Workers involved in the manufacture or use of CCl4 are more likely to have significant CCl4 exposure than are other persons.