ToxFAQs™ for Chloroethane
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What is chloroethane?
Chloroethane is a colorless gas at room temperature and pressure. It has a characteristically sharp pungent smell. It is a liquid when stored in pressurized containers; however, the liquid evaporates quickly when exposed to room air.
Chloroethane was used in leaded gasoline, but strict new government regulations have reduced that use dramatically. It is used in the production of cellulose, dyes, medicinal drugs, formed plastics, and as a solvent. It is also used to numb the skin before medical procedures such as ear piercing and skin biopsies and as a treatment in sports injuries.
What happens to chloroethane in the environment?
Chloroethane can get into the environment from factories that use or make it.
Once in the air, chloroethane gets broken down fairly rapidly (about half disappears within 40 days) by reacting with other chemicals in the air. Chloroethane in water or soil will quickly evaporate into the air. Small amount may travel through the soil and can enter the groundwater. Chloroethane does not build up in large amounts in plants or animals.
How can I be exposed to chloroethane?
Exposure to high levels of chloroethane can affect the nervous system causing lack of muscle coordination, tremors, and unconsciousness.
Most people are not likely exposed to large amounts of chloroethane. Workers who work in places where chloroethane is used or produced, such as in printing and publishing, painting companies, chemical manufacturing, cement manufacturing, pulp and paper, oil and gas production, petroleum refining, waste disposal, agriculture, and electric services, may be exposed to higher levels. Medical workers who use chloroethane on their patients’ skin for pain relief before a procedure or people who apply it themselves on their skin for muscle or joint pain may have higher level exposure.
People who intentionally misuse chloroethane by inhaling its vapor for narcotic effects are exposing themselves to high levels.
How can chloroethane affect my health?
Brief exposure to high levels can produce temporary feelings of intoxication. At higher levels, it can cause dizziness, increased reaction time, slurred speech, sleep disturbances, rapid eye movement, altered reflexes, tremors, hallucinations, and unconsciousness. It can also cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and eye irritation. Chloroethane is sometimes applied to the skin as a numbing agent before surgery or applied to the skin for relief of muscle and joint pain. If it is applied for too long, frostbite can happen.
In animal studies, the baby mice exposed to chloroethane during pregnancy had delayed development of the skull bones. Breathing in large amounts of chloroethane had effects on the uterus in mice and dogs.
Can chloroethane cause cancer?
The ability of chloroethane to cause cancer in people has not been well studied.
Mice and rats exposed to chloroethane for a long time have developed cancer, but the type of cancer is different in males and females and in the different animal species.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has not classified chloroethane as to its carcinogenicity (ability to cause cancer).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified chloroethane as likely to be carcinogenic to people.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that chloroethane is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity.
Can I get a medical test to check for chloroethane?
Currently, there are no medical tests available to determine if you have been exposed to chloroethane.
How can I protect myself and my family from chloroethane?
If you are pregnant, avoid using products that contain chloroethane. Do not sniff, breathe in, or intentionally misuse chloroethane. If applying chloroethane to yourself for muscle or joint pain, do so in a well-ventilated area or outside.
Store all products containing chloroethane safely and keep them away from children.
If you feel sick after using chloroethane on your skin or think you or your children have been exposed to chloroethane or any other chemical, talk to your health care provider or call poison control.
For more information:
Call CDC-INFO at 1-800-232-4636, or submit your question online at
Go to ATSDR’s Toxicological Profile for Chloroethane: https://wwwn.cdc.gov/TSP/ToxProfiles/ToxProfiles.aspx?id=827&tid=161
Go to ATSDR’s Toxic Substances Portal: https://wwwn.cdc.gov/TSP/index.aspx
Find & contact your ATSDR Regional Representative at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/DRO/dro_org.html