Breathing this is the same as drinking this (and your skin is your largest digestive organ)

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Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions (FAQs) about automobile gasoline. For
more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-888-422-8737. This fact sheet is one in a series
of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. This information is important because
this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the
duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
AUTOMOTIVE GASOLINE
CAS # 8006-61-9
SUMMARY: Exposure to automotive gasoline most likely occurs from breathing its
vapor at a service station while filling a car’s fuel tank. At high levels, automotive
gasoline is irritating to the lungs when breathed in and irritating to the lining of the
stomach when swallowed. Exposure to high levels may also cause harmful effects
to the nervous system. Automotive gasoline has been found in at least 23 of the 1,430
National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is automotive gasoline?
(Pronounced ô”t…-m½“t¹v g²s“…-l¶n”)
The gasoline discussed in this fact sheet is automotive used
as a fuel for engines in cars. Gasoline is a colorless, pale brown, or
pink liquid, and is very flammable.
Gasoline is a manufactured mixture that does not exist naturally
in the environment. Gasoline is produced from petroleum in
the refining process.
Typically, gasoline contains more than 150 chemicals,
including small amounts of benzene, toluene, xylene, and
sometimes lead. How the gasoline is made determines which
chemicals are present in the gasoline mixture and how much
of each is present. The actual composition varies with the
source of the crude petroleum, the manufacturer, and the
time of year.
What happens to automotive gasoline when it
enters the environment?
q Small amounts of the chemicals present in gasoline
evaporate into the air when you fill the gas tank in your
car or when gasoline is accidentally spilled onto surfaces
and soils or into surface waters.
q Other chemicals in gasoline dissolve in water after spills
to surface waters or underground storage tank leaks into
the groundwater.
q In surface releases, most chemicals in gasoline will probably
evaporate; others may dissolve and be carried away
by water; a few will probably stick to soil.
q The chemicals that evaporate are broken down by sunlight
and other chemicals in the air.
q The chemicals that dissolve in water also break down
quickly by natural processes.
How might I be exposed to automotive gasoline?
q Breathing vapors at a service station when filling the car’s
fuel tank is the most likely way to be exposed.
q Working at a service station.
q Using equipment that runs on gasoline, such as a lawn
mower.
q Drinking contaminated water.
q Being close to a spot where gasoline has spilled or leaked
into the soil.
How can automotive gasoline affect my health?
Many of the harmful effects seen after exposure to gasoline
are due to the individual chemicals in the gasoline mix-
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Public Health Service
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Page 2
Federal Recycling Program Printed on Recycled Paper
ToxFAQs Internet address via WWW is http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaq.html
Where can I get more information? For more information, contact the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry, Division of Toxicology, 1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-32, Atlanta, GA 30333. Phone: 1-888-422-8737,
FAX: 770-488-4178. ToxFAQs Internet address via WWW is http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaq.html ATSDR can tell you
where to find occupational and environmental health clinics. Their specialists can recognize, evaluate, and treat illnesses
resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your community or state health or environmental
quality department if you have any more questions or concerns.
ture, such as benzene and lead. Inhaling or swallowing large
amounts of gasoline can cause death.
Inhaling high concentrations of gasoline is irritating to
the lungs when breathed in and irritating to the lining of the
stomach when swallowed. Gasoline is also a skin irritant.
Breathing in high levels of gasoline for short periods or swallowing
large amounts of gasoline may also cause harmful effects
on the nervous system.
Serious nervous system effects include coma and the inability
to breathe, while less serious effects include dizziness
and headaches.
There is not enough information available to determine if
gasoline causes birth defects or affects reproduction.
How likely is automotive gasoline to cause cancer?
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
have not classified automotive gasoline for carcinogenicity.
Automotive gasoline is currently undergoing review by the
EPA for cancer classification.
Some laboratory animals that breathed high concentrations
of unleaded gasoline vapors continuously for 2 years
developed liver and kidney tumors. However, there is no evidence
that exposure to gasoline causes cancer in humans.
Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been
exposed to automotive gasoline?
Laboratory tests are available that can measure elevated
blood or urine levels of lead (as an indication of exposure to
leaded gasoline only), benzene, or other substances that may
result from exposure to gasoline or other sources. These methods
are sensitive enough to measure background levels and
levels where health effects may occur. These tests aren’t available
in most doctors’ offices, but can be done at special laboratories
that have the right equipment.
Has the federal government made
recommendations to protect human health?
The EPA has established many regulations to control air
pollution. These are designed to protect the public from the
possible harmful health effects of gasoline.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial
Hygienists (ACGIH) set a maximum level of 890 milligrams of
gasoline per cubic meter of air (890 mg/m3) for an 8-hour
workday, 40-hour workweek.
Glossary
Carcinogenicity: Ability to cause cancer.
CAS: Chemical Abstracts Service.
Crude petroleum: Petroleum that has not been processed.
Dissolve: To disappear gradually.
Evaporate: To change into a vapor or a gas.
Irritant: A substance that causes an abnormal reaction.
Mixture: A combination of two or more components.
Refining process: The process by which petroleum is purified
to form gasoline.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue.
References
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR). 1995. Toxicological profile for automotive gasoline.
Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Public Health Service.
AUTOMOTIVE GASOLINE
CAS # 8006-61-9

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