Toxic Tuesdays

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

1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB)

1,4-dichlorobenzene (1,4-DCB) – also known as p-dichlorobenzene (p-DCB) – is a colorless solid chemical that readily evaporates into the air. 1,4-DCB does not occur in nature, and it is often produced for use in deodorants or disinfectants because it has a strong odor that humans can smell at very low concentrations. It is commonly used in household products like mothballs and deodorizing sprays. It also has industrial uses as a pesticide ingredient and a precursor to commercial dyes. 1,4-DCB can enter the environment through its household uses, pesticides, and industrial waste disposal. 1,4-DCB mostly enters the environment as a vapor, and people are likely to inhale it in homes and buildings where it is used. Solid 1,4-DCB can also bind to soil and remain there for long periods of time, but people are less likely to be exposed to it in this way.

Inhaling high concentrations of 1,4-DCB can cause irritation or burning sensations in the eyes and nose. It can also cause coughing, nausea, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, and liver dysfunction. Touching products that contain 1,4-DCB can also cause burning sensations on the skin. In studies of laboratory animals, 1,4-DCB exposure caused liver, kidney, and blood defects as well as liver cancer. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer both classify it as being reasonably anticipated to cause cancer.

Because of the danger to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a maximum 1,4-DCB concentration that can be present in drinking water without observing adverse health effects. The European Union has gone even further, banning use of 1,4-DCB in mothballs and air fresheners because of its potential to cause cancer. Similar regulation in the US could protect more people from the health risks of 1,4-DCB exposure.

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