- What is 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)?
- What happens to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)
when it enters the environment?
- How might I be exposed to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
- How can 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) affect
- How likely is 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)
to cause cancer?
- Is there a medical test to show whether I've
been exposed to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)?
- Has the federal government made recommendations
to protect human health?
- Where can I get more information?
ToxFAQsTM for 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene (TNT)
Spanish: 2,4,6-Trinitrotolueno (TNT)
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT). For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. It is important you understand this information 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 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene occurs through eating, drinking, touching, or inhaling contaminated soil, water, food, or air. Health effects reported in people exposed to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene include anemia, abnormal liver function, skin irritation, and cataracts. This substance has been found in at least 20 of the 1,430 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
What is 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)?
2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene is a yellow, odorless
solid that does not occur naturally in the environment. It
is commonly known as TNT and is an explosive used in military
shells, bombs, and grenades, in industrial uses, and in underwater
2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene production in the
United States occurs solely at military arsenals.
What happens to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) when it enters the environment?
- 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene enters the environment in waste
waters and solid wastes resulting from the manufacture of
the compound, the processing and destruction of bombs and
grenades, and the recycling of explosives.
- It moves in surface water and through soils to ground-water.
- In surface water, it is rapidly broken down into other
chemical compounds by sunlight.
- It is broken down more slowly by microorganisms in water
- Small amounts of it can accumulate in fish and plants.
How might I be exposed to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)?
- Drinking contaminated water that has migrated from chemical
waste disposal sites.
- Breathing contaminated air.
- Eating contaminated foods such as fruits and vegetables.
- Eating contaminated soil.
How can 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) affect my health?
Workers involved in the production of
explosives who were exposed to high concentrations of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
in workplace air experienced several harmful health effects,
including anemia and abnormal liver function.
Similar blood and liver effects, as well
as spleen enlargement and other harmful effects on the immune
system, have been observed in animals that ate or breathed
Other effects in humans include skin
irritation after prolonged skin contact, and cataract development
after long-term (365 days or longer) exposure.
It is not known whether 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
can cause birth defects in humans. However, male animals treated
with high doses of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene have developed serious
reproductive system effects.
How likely is 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) to cause cancer?
The EPA has determined that 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
is a possible human carcinogen. This assessment was based
on a study in which rats that ate 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene for
long periods developed tumors of the urinary bladder.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT)?
Laboratory tests can detect 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
or its breakdown products in blood or urine. Detection of
its breakdown products in urine is a clear indication of exposure.
This test isn't available at most doctors' offices, but can
be done at special laboratories that have the right equipment.
A simpler, but less specific test of
2,4,6-trinitrotoluene exposure is a change in the color of
urine to amber or deep red due to the presence of its breakdown
products. However, none of these tests can predict whether
a person will experience any health effects.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
Since 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene is explosive,
flammable, and toxic, EPA has designated it as a hazardous
The Department of Transportation (DOT)
specifies that when 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene is shipped, it must
be wet with at least 10% water (by weight) and it must be
clearly labeled as a flammable solid.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) set a maximum level of 1.5 milligrams of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
per cubic meter of workplace air (1.5 mg/m3) for an 8-hour
workday for a 40-hour workweek.
The National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the American Conference of Governmental
Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommend an exposure limit
of 0.5 mg/m3 in workplace air for a 40-hour workweek.
Anemia: A decreased ability of the blood
to transport oxygen.
Breakdown product: A substance that is
formed when a chemical breaks down in the body.
Carcinogen: A substance that can cause
CAS: Chemical Abstracts Service.
Cataract: Clouding of the lens or capsule
of the eye, causing partial or total blindness.
Milligram (mg): One thousandth of a gram.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR). 1995. Toxicological Profile for 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT). Atlanta, GA:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health
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
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
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.