Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

1,2-dichloroethane (1,2-D)

1,2-dichloroethane (1,2-D) – also called ethylene dichloride – is a clear, oily liquid with a sweet smell that is man-made and not found in nature. It is used in the production of plastic and vinyl products like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes, upholstery, automobile parts, and housewares. It is also added to the leaded gasoline used in airplanes and racecars. 1,2-D was previously used in some household products like carpet cleaners, but most of these products are discontinued. 1,2-D can enter the environment during its production, disposal, or use. It can enter the water and soil, but because it is volatile (meaning it readily evaporates), most 1,2-D ends up in the air. Once in the air, it can persist for many months and travel long distances.

Because most 1,2-D in the environment ends up in the air, people are most likely to be exposed to it by breathing contaminated air. Exposure can cause damage to many organ systems: brain dysfunction such as nausea and blurred vision; gastrointestinal dysfunction such as vomiting, gastritis, and colitis; respiratory dysfunction such as difficulty breathing and bronchitis; immune system dysfunction such as decreased ability to fight infection and decreased blood clotting; liver damage; and kidney damage. In extreme cases, exposure can cause heart attack and death. In studies of laboratory animals, exposure also caused lung, liver, brain, and reproductive cancers. Based on this research, the US Environmental Protection Agency has determined that 1,2-D probably causes cancer in humans.

1,2-D is known to be a very dangerous chemical with multiple harmful effects on human health. It is a positive development that household products with 1,2-D are largely discontinued. However, its continued use in products like PVC pipes and leaded gasoline mean that 1,2-D and its threats to human health remain pervasive in both household and industrial environments.

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