What is a solvent?
A solvent is a substance used to dissolve or dilute another substance to create a solution. Water is the most common solvent but most solvents used in industry are “organic”, petroleum-based chemicals. They are often mixtures and can be very hazardous. Often liquids with the flammable symbol on the label contain solvents.

How do solvents enter the body?
There are 3 main ways that solvents enter the body:

Inhalation – Inhalation is the most common. Most solvents evaporate into the air very quickly. The fumes and gases that result can easily be breathed in, passed through the lungs into the bloodstream and transported to organs such as the brain and liver.

Skin Absorption – With direct contact, solvents can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin even if it is healthy.

Ingestion – Solvent droplets can collect on the hairs in the nose and be sniffed in or swallowed. Touching the mouth with contaminated hands, food and cigarettes can also result in ingestion.

What are the health risks?
Solvents have different effects on humans depending on the type of solvent, the length and frequency of exposure, and the concentration of the solvent in the inhaled air.
Short term exposure can cause:

– Dizzyness
– Headaches
– Dermatitis or Skin Problems (drying, cracking, redness, blistering)
– Poor Coordination
– Nausea (feeling sick)

These effects usually occur quickly. Exposure to very high concentrations can lead to unconsciousness or even death.

Long term, repeated exposure may lead to:

– Neurotoxicity (damage to the brain and nervous system)
– Skin Problems/Dermatitis
– Liver and/or Kidney Damage
– Fertility Problems (in both men and women)
– Damage to the Blood Forming System
– Damage to the Foetus (in pregnant women)

Some solvents, for example Benzene and Toluene, can cause cancer (are carcinogenic).
Some solvents will have greater health effects if you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol soon after exposure.

For more details on the symptoms of exposure click here.

What is a carcinogen?
A carcinogen is defined as any substance or agent that tends to produce cancer.
Carcinogens are divided into two categories. Chemicals are placed into
these categories based on evidence of exposure to them leading to the development of cancer.
Classes of carcinogens are:

Category 1 – Known or presumed human carcinogens based on human evidence.
Category 2 – Suspected human carcinogens.

For further information on solvents and carcinogens please visit the
following links: (and search for your particular solvent or carcinogen)
11th Report on Carcinogens
American Cancer Society Known and Probable Carcinogens