ToxFAQs™ for Carbon Disulfide
Spanish: Sulfuro de Carbono
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about carbon disulfide. For more information, you may 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.
Exposure to carbon
disulfide can occur by breathing it in the air and by
drinking water or eating foods that contain it. Breathing
very high levels can be life threatening because of its
effects on the nervous system. Breathing low levels for
long periods may result in headaches, tiredness, trouble
sleeping, and slight changes in the nerves. Carbon disulfide
has been found in at least 210 of the 1,430 National Priorities
List sites identified by the Environmental Protection
What is carbon disulfide?
Pure carbon disulfide is a colorless
liquid with a pleasant odor that is like the smell of chloroform.
The impure carbon disulfide that is usually used in most industrial
processes is a yellowish liquid with an unpleasant odor, like
that of rotting radishes.
Carbon disulfide evaporates at room temperature,
and the vapor is more than twice as heavy as air. It easily
explodes in air and also catches fire very easily.
In nature, small amounts of carbon disulfide
are found in gases released to the earth's surface as, for
example, in volcanic eruptions or over marshes. Commercial
carbon disulfide is made by combining carbon and sulfur at
very high temperatures.
What happens to carbon disulfide when it enters the environment?
- The amount of carbon disulfide released into the air through natural processes is difficult to judge because it is so
- Carbon disulfide evaporates rapidly when released to the environment.
- Most carbon disulfide in the air and surface water is from manufacturing and processing activities.
- It is found naturally in coastal and ocean waters.
- Carbon disulfide does not stay dissolved in water very long, and it also moves through soils fairly quickly.
- Carbon disulfide does not appear to be taken up in significant amounts by the organisms living in water.
How might I be exposed to carbon disulfide?
- The people most often exposed to carbon disulfide are workers in plants that use carbon disulfide in their manufacturing
- People may be exposed by breathing air, drinking water, or eating foods that contain it.
- People may also be exposed through skin contact with soil, water, or other substances that contain carbon disulfide.
How can carbon disulfide affect my health?
At very high levels, carbon disulfide
may be life-threatening because of its effects on the nervous
system. People who breathed carbon disulfide near an accident
involving a railroad car showed changes in breathing and some
Some workers who breathed high levels during working hours for at least 6 months had headaches,
tiredness, and trouble sleeping. However, these workers may
have been exposed to other chemicals besides carbon disulfide.
Among workers who breathed lower levels, some developed very
slight changes in their nerves.
Studies in animals indicate that carbon
disulfide can affect the normal functions of the brain, liver,
and heart. After pregnant rats breathed carbon disulfide in
the air, some of the newborn rats died or had birth defects.
High concentrations of carbon disulfide
have caused skin burns when the chemical accidentally touched
How likely is carbon disulfide to cause cancer?
The Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
and the EPA have not classified carbon disulfide for carcinogenicity.
There are no definitive data in humans
or animals that indicate a carcinogenic potential for carbon
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to carbon disulfide?
One chemical test using urine can be
done to tell whether the levels of breakdown substances from
carbon disulfide are higher than normal. However, the test
is not specific for carbon disulfide exposure.
A second test based on a specific breakdown
substance is more sensitive and specific. It also requires
special equipment and cannot tell you exactly how much carbon
disulfide you were exposed to or predict whether harmful effects
These tests aren't available at 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 requires that spills or accidental
releases into the environment of 100 pounds or more of carbon
disulfide be reported to the EPA.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) has set a limit of 20 parts of carbon disulfide per
million parts of air (20 ppm) for an 8-hour workday for a
The National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that workroom air levels
of carbon disulfide not exceed 1ppm for a 10-hour workday,
Carcinogenicity: Ability of a substance to cause cancer.
CAS: Chemical Abstracts Service.
Dissolve: To disappear gradually.
Evaporate: To change into vapor or a gas.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1996. Toxicological Profile for Carbon Disulfide. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.