Toxicity

Chronic exposure to a low concentration of xylene is usually not associated with toxicity. Most cases of occupational xylene poisoning are due to accidental high exposure (Uchida et al., 1993). Xylene poisoning has also been reported following abuse (Sarmiento Martinez et al., 1989; Kaneko et al., 1992) and use of a xylene containing product in an enclosed space (Morley et al., 1970; Roberts et al., 1988). Xylene has been used as a means of suicide (Abu Al Ragheb et al., 1986). Occasionally xylene abuse may occur following occupational exposure (Bakinson and Jones, 1985). Poisoning has also been reported in a hospital where xylene was discarded down a sink in the pathology laboratory, and, through a combination of events, became drawn into the room containing the fan of the main ventilation system. Fifteen members of staff became unwell as a result (Klaucke et al., 1982).

Most studies on the effects of xylene have been conducted using m-xylene, the most abundant isomer in commercial xylene (Low et al., 1989). Many studies linking adverse effects and xylene exposure have involved workers who have been exposed to other solvents, and individual exposure is ill defined. Consequently the role of xylene toxicity in these cases has not been fully established. It is unclear whether long-term exposure to xylene causes permanent CNS damage (ECETOC, 1986).

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