• Clinical science

Organic solvent toxicity


Organic solvents are used in detergents, insecticides, and a number of industrial settings. Most of these substances are highly lipid-soluble and therefore capable of causing CNS disorders and polyneuropathy. Some organic solvents break down into metabolites that are carcinogenic. While the metabolites may be found in urine or blood, the diagnosis is usually established based on clinical features and a history of exposure. Most organic solvents do not have an antidote; therefore, treatment is generally supportive.

For an overview of other types of substance toxicity (e.g., with organophosphates), see the learning card on poisoning.


Overview of some organic solvents

Aromatic amines
Polyvinyl chloride

High lipid solubility


Aromatic amines



  • Sources of exposure: skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation of hexachlorocyclohexane found in insecticides or topical creams for scabies
  • Effects
    • CNS: dizziness, vertigo, headache
    • Carcinogenic effects are currently being investigated.


Polyvinyl chloride




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  • 2. Levine MD. Hydrocarbon Toxicity. In: Miller MA. Hydrocarbon Toxicity. New York, NY: WebMD. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/821143. Updated June 6, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2017.
  • 3. Roberts SM, James RC, Williams PL. Principles of Toxicology: Environmental and Industrial Applications. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2014.
  • 4. Lewander WJ, Aleguas A Jr, Burns MM, Wiley JF II. Hydrocarbon Poisoning. In: Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/hydrocarbon-poisoning. Last updated April 25, 2017. Accessed September 26, 2017.
last updated 11/28/2019
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