Xylene, also known as Dimethyl Benzene, is a colourless, sweet smelling liquid or gas found in a range of products from printing and painting to glues and solvents.
Exposure to xylene can occur through inhalation, ingestion or direct contact with the skin or eyes.
Where possible, you should use safer products that do not contain xylene.
If you have to work with xylene you must:
- use ventilation
- isolate high exposure tasks
- use the right personal protective equipment (PPE), eg respirators, safety goggles, chemical resistant clothing and gloves
- train workers to fit, use and maintain PPE
- have safety equipment available, eg eye wash and showers
- do air monitoring regularly
- always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.
In the event of suspected exposure, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126.
Xylene occurs naturally in petroleum, coal and wood tar. It is a common component of solvents used in the printing, painting, rubber, leather and agricultural industries. Xylene is found in glues, adhesives, printing inks, paint thinners, degreaser products, solvents and sealants. However, it can also be found in petrol and cigarette smoke. Xylene may also be used in pathology and research laboratories to prepare or preserve tissue samples for analysis.
Potential harm depends on the concentration and duration of exposure. For short term (acute exposures) xylene acts as an irritant to the skin, eyes and respiratory system. Prolonged or repeated skin contact may cause dryness and redness of the skin resulting in dermatitis. Breathing in xylene vapour can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Xylene also acts on the central nervous system and can result in headaches, dizziness, vertigo and nausea. Although uncommon, exposure to high concentrations of xylene can result in death from respiratory failure.
For longer term (chronic exposures) symptoms may include headaches, chest pain, abnormal heart function, breathing difficulties, decreased lung function, decreased oxygen in the blood (resulting in blue hands), decreased white blood cell count and confusion.
Exposure to both xylene and noise may result in an increased risk of hearing loss in workers.
Read the xylene technical fact sheet.