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Toluene, Benzene’s Toxic Cousin

Published on November 9th, 2020 by Andrew Hughes

Toluene is a crude oil distillate similar to benzene in many ways. It is often used as a solvent because it can help dissolve other substances.  Toluene is found in lacquers, paint thinners, paints and adhesives. Toluene is added to gasoline to increase the octane ratings and it is used in the printing industry.

Presently, toluene has not been identified as a carcinogen by government bodies. However, this does not mean that toluene is not dangerous, only that there is insufficient epidemiological support to make that determination. 

Hiding Benzene in Toluene

Since toluene has not been deemed a carcinogen, many companies list toluene as an ingredient without warnings. Unfortunately, refined toluene still contains benzene (a “known carcinogen”). As recently as 2008, some manufactured toluene contained 5% benzene, or 50,000 parts per million. This means that a product that is 60% toluene would have been 3% benzene. 

It is of note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that benzene be listed on material safety data sheets (MSDS) if the concentration is .1% or higher. But when the benzene content comes from toluene, companies are able to leave benzene off of their MSDS and thus leaving consumers at risk.  The benzene remains in these products, but consumers are not being warned about it. One would think that if a product is composed of a carcinogen like benzene, consumers should receive warnings.

Benzene Sickens Thousands Each Year, is Toluene Next?

Benzene has been a known carcinogen since before World War II. It has been linked to blood and bone cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and multiple myeloma (MM) for about as long. Through the 1970’s, companies added benzene into petroleum-based products such as solvents, degreasers, brake cleaners, and paint thinners. At the same time, they denied the link between their products and the resulting cancers of so many mechanics, pressmen, oil field workers, plumbers, and fuel haulers.

Benzene No Longer Being Added to Products

By the late 1970’s, the mounting epidemiological evidence made it impossible to deny the link between benzene and leukemia.  And thus, manufacturers began to remove benzene as an ingredient. A can of Liquid Wrench or CRC Brakleen purchased in the mid-1970s likely listed benzene as an ingredient. Those same products purchased in the 2000s only list toluene on the label or a material safety data sheet. However, that does not mean that there was no benzene in that product. It just means that the benzene was hidden in the toluene.

Who is Making Toluene?

Approximately 6 million metric tons of toluene are sold in the US each year and at $500 per ton, that is $3 billion in sales.  ExxonMobil Chemical, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, and Equistar Chemicals have all manufactured toluene that contained at least 1% benzene in the last 20 years. When users of their products get sick and ask for relief, these companies argue that toluene is not classified as a carcinogen and are often successful getting lawsuits dismissed.

Experienced Benzene Attorneys

Bringing a lawsuit against the manufacturers of toluene and the companies that add toluene to paint thinners, inks, and other solvents is a difficult challenge. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a blood or bone cancer, call 1-800-BENZENE today and speak directly with an attorney.

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