Xylene, also called xylol, dimethyl benzene, Violet 3, and methyl toluene, is an isomer that can be found in three forms. It is traditionally used in the leather, rubber, and paint industries, particularly as a solvent, a cleaning agent, and a paint thinner. Since it naturally occurs in petroleum, it is not surprising that it is also found in gasoline and jet fuel. It may also be considered a narcotic-type of drug, as it may be an intoxicant if it is inhaled.
Xylene is a highly-flammable, colorless liquid. Typically, it smells sweet, with a scent that is similar to balsam. It is usually refined through an alkylation process from crude oil, but it can also be made as a by-product from coal carbonization, extracted from benzole, or through the methylation of toluene.
There are many ways that xylene may be used. For example, it is sometimes used in making some polyester clothes and plastic bottles. In fact, nearly 50 percent of the xylene produced is used to produce polymers used in plastics and polyester. It is also used as a solvent in the paint and rubber industries. Some steel cleaning agents contain it as well.
If xylene is released into the environment, it will evaporate rather rapidly from the surface water and soil into the air. Within the earth’s air, the sunlight typically breaks it down into less harsh chemicals, but the process may take several days. In soil, it can be broken down by select micro-organisms. If water is contaminated with the chemical, it may build up in shellfish, fish, plants, and other marine life.
It is possible for people to be exposed to xylene. Since consumer products, such as gasoline, rust preventatives, paint varnish, and even cigarette smoke, contain xylene, it is possible for the chemical to be absorbed through a consumer’s skin or through the lungs when these products are used. If a food or water source is contaminated with chemical, it is possible to have exposure as well. In fact, many people are exposed through soil that is contaminated by leaking petroleum storage tanks located underground. Also, people who work in the chemical industry may also be exposed.
There are damaging health effects for people exposed to xylene. Neurological effects may be experienced, such as headaches, dizziness, lack of coordination, and confusion. The eyes may also become irritated and some people may have problems breathing, a slow reaction time, and memory failure. If a person inhales a high level of the chemical, it may cause death. It is considered a narcotic, but it is not a controlled substance.