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What are Organic Solvents?

Solvents are chemicals or substances that are capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances. Organic solvents are carbon-based solvents meaning they contain carbon in their molecular structure. Millions of workers in the United States and around the world are exposed to organic solvents that are used in such products as paints, varnishes, lacquers, adhesives, glues, and degreasing/cleaning agents, and in the production of dyes, polymers, plastics, textiles, printing inks, agricultural products, and pharmaceuticals.

Many individual organic solvents are recognized by NIOSH as carcinogens (e.g., benzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene), reproductive hazards (e.g., 2-ethoxyethanol, 2-methoxyethanol, methyl chloride), and neurotoxins (e.g., n-hexane, tetrachloroethylene, toluene).

Mixtures of organic solvents such as those found in Mineral Spirits, Paint Thinners, Floor Strippers, Lubricants, Print Roller Cleaners and Rubber Solvents are also known to cause certain cancers including lymphoma and leukemia. You might be surprised to learn that many household and commercial solvent products contain mixtures of organic solvents as well as benzene.

People who work with or around such chemicals are at risk for being exposed to the vapors released into the air when the products are used and getting the chemicals on their skin. This type of exposure may put the person at risk for developing lymphoma and leukemia years after exposure.

Types of Organic Solvents

Bulk Solvents

Many workers use or work around others who use bulk solvents. These solvents may arrive in large unmarked drums or by tanker trucks, tanker ships and railcars that are unload and stored in above and below-ground tanks.

People who work in the tire and rubber manufacturing industry are at particular risk for exposure to bulk solvents. Many of these solvent are in fact contaminated with benzene and made from mixtures of organic solvents. Some go by the names “solvent,” “rubber solvent, ” “thinners,” “Bennie” or even by company code numbers.

These bulk solvents are often supplied without warning labels or adequate instruction on safe use and handing. The bulk solvent is often distributed to plant workers in smaller drums and portable containers. Workers pouring the solvent and using the solvents to lubricate, degrease and clean are at risk for dermally absorbing the solvents through bare hands and inhaling the fumes from the solvents. People who work around others using the solvents are at risk for inhaling the fumes as well. This type of exposure can lead to certain types of injuries to the body including some lymphomas and leukemia.

Workers involved in the transportation and distribution of bulk solvents are also at risk for inhaling toxic fumes when they load and unload the solvents. Investigation into the suppliers of these products reveals that in many cases they come directly from petroleum refineries where they are made.


Did you know common products used by auto mechanics such as Safety-Kleen* parts washer solvent contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer?

Safety-Kleen parts washers were used to clean and degrease parts. According to Material Data Sheets and product specification testing, Safety-Kleen 105 Solvent is contaminated with multiple carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene, perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, chlorinated benzenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Typically parts are placed in the washer and immersed in solvent. Persons who work with, or around, the parts washer are constantly subjected to fumes that come from the washer. In addition, skin contact with the solvent is frequent as once the parts are removed they are still covered in solvent.

Printing Solvents

Solvents, blanket washes, rubber rejuvenators and cleaners associated with the print making industry can contain toxic chemicals which can cause cancer. Quick n’ Slick* and Deglazenator* are just two examples of solvents used in the printmaking industry which can contain carcinogenic chemicals including benzene. Products like these are added directly to the presses and also applied to rags and used to clean ink from the presses.

What makes exposure to the toxic chemicals contained in products even more significant is the way the products are typically used. Because the products can be poured directly into holding containers in the press itself there is a continuous source of fumes. In addition, clean up with rags soaked in the products can result in contact with the skin not to mention providing a constant source of fumes. These uses are compounded by the fact that in many cases the products are used in enclosed areas, like print shops, where there is not adequate ventilation.

If you, a family member or friend have worked with or around others working with solvents such as Quick n’ Slick and Deglazenator and have been diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma, you need to understand your legal rights.

* Brand names are trademarks of their respective holders.

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