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Organic Solvents


Organic solvents are carbon-based substances capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances.

Organic solvents can be carcinogens, reproductive hazards, and neurotoxins. Carcinogenic organic solvents include benzene, carbon tetrachloride, and trichloroethylene. Organic solvents recognized as reproductive hazards include 2-ethoxyethanol, 2-methoxyethanol, and methyl chloride. Organic solvents recognized as neurotoxins include n-hexane, tetrachloroethylene, and toluene. Many classes of chemicals are used as organic solvents, including aliphatic hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons, amines, esters, ethers, ketones, and nitrated or chlorinated hydrocarbons.

Organic solvents are used in many industries. They are used in paints, varnishes, lacquers, adhesives, glues, and in degreasing and cleaning agents, and in the production of dyes, polymers, plastics, textiles, printing inks, agricultural products, and pharmaceuticals. Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to organic solvents. The level of exposure depends upon the dose, duration, and work being done.

NIOSH recommends that employers use Hierarchy of Controls to prevent injuries.  If you work in an industry that uses organic solvents, please read chemical labels and the accompanying Safety Data Sheets for hazard information. Visit NIOSH’s page on Managing Chemical Safety in the Workplace to learn more about controlling chemical workplace exposures.

The following resources provide information about occupational exposure to organic solvents.

NIOSH Chemical Resources

Logo of NIOSH Pocket Guide

NIOSH Pocket Guide

The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (NPG) helps workers, employers, and occupational health professionals recognize and control workplace chemical hazards.

Logo of Manual of Analytical Methods.

Manual of Analytical Methods

The NIOSH Manual of Analytical Methods (NMAM) is a collection of methods for sampling and analysis of contaminants in workplace air, and in the blood and urine of workers who are occupationally exposed.

Logo of Health Hazard Evaluations consisting of three letters: HHE

Health Hazard Evaluations

The Health Hazard Evaluation Program (HHE) conducts onsite investigations of possible worker exposure to chemicals. Search the HHE database for more information on [CHEMICAL].

Related NIOSH Resources

Selected Publications

  • 2-Nitropropane (2-NP)– DHHS (NIOSH)No. 80-142. As a confirmed animal carcinogen, 2-NP has the potential to cause cancer in humans. This document summarizes the cancer studies of 2-NP in laboratory animals and its toxic effects in humans.
  • Preventing Adverse Health Effects from Exposure to Dimethylformamide (DMF)– DHHS (NIOSH)  No. 90-105. This describes engineering controls, good work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended for controlling exposures to DMF by inhalation and skin contact.
  • Preventing Death from Excessive Exposure to Chlorofluorocarbon 113 (CFC-113)– DHHS (NIOSH)  No. 89-109. A number of workers have died recently as a result of exposure to CFC-113 in confined spaces or in areas with insufficient ventilation. These workers were apparently unaware that CFC-113 might generate vapor concentrations sufficient to cause death by cardiac arrhythmia or asphyxiation.

Criteria Documents (Criteria for a Recommended Standard)

Criteria documents are developed and recommended by NIOSH for preventing disease and hazardous conditions in the workplace. These documents generally contain a critical review of the scientific and technical information available on the prevalence of hazards, the existence of safety and health risks, and the adequacy of methods to identify and control hazards.

Current Intelligence Bulletins (CIBs)

CIBs review and evaluate new and emerging information about occupational hazards. A CIB may draw attention to a previously unrecognized hazard, report new data on a known hazard, or disseminate information about hazard controls.

Related Resources

International Resources