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Glossary - Xylene

Xylene, or Xylol, refers to a mixture of three aromatic hydrocarbon isomers closely related to benzene.  Xylene is a clear, colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that is very flammable.  It is usually refined from crude oil in a process called alkylation.  It is also produced as a by-product from coal carbonisation derived from coke ovens, extracted from crude benzole from gas, or by dehydrocyclodimerization and methylating of toluene and benzene.  It is also manufactured from reformate.

Xylene is used as a solvent in the printing, rubber, and leather industries.  Xylene is also used as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties.  Xylene exhibits neurological effects, and high levels from exposure for acute (14 days or less) or chronic periods (more than 1 year) can cause headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, and balance.  Exposure of people to high levels of xylene for short periods can also cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty in breathing and other problems with the lungs, delayed reaction time, memory difficulties, stomach discomfort, and possibly adverse effects on the liver and kidneys (it can cause unconsciousness and even death at very high levels, such as by way of inhalents).

Xylene or products containing Xylene should not be used indoors or around food.  Xylene is not a controlled substance.  Studies of unborn animals indicate that high concentrations of xylene may cause increased numbers of deaths, and delayed growth and development.  In many instances, these same concentrations also cause damage to the mothers.  It is not yet known whether xylene harms the unborn fetus if the mother is exposed to low levels of xylene during pregnancy.

Aside from occupational exposure, the principal pathway of human contact is via soil contamination from leaking underground storage tanks containing petroleum products.  Humans who come into contact with the soil or groundwater may become affected.  Use of contaminated groundwater as a water supply could lead to adverse health effects.


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