ToxFAQsTM for Hexachloroethane
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about hexachloroethane. 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. 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.
Hexachloroethane is a colorless solid that gradually evaporates when it is exposed to air. It is used in the manufacture of aluminum and by the military for smoke-producing devices. Exposure to hexachloroethane can be irritating to the skin, nose, lungs, and eyes. Hexachloroethane has been found in at least 45 of the 1,416 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is hexachloroethane?
Hexachloroethane is a colorless solid
that gradually evaporates when it is exposed to air. It is
also called HCE, perchloroethane, and carbon hexachloride.
Its vapors smell like camphor. In the United States, about
half of the hexachloroethane is used by the military for smoke-producing
devices. It is also used to remove air bubbles in melted aluminum.
Hexachloroethane may be present as an ingredient in some fungicides,
insecticides, lubricants, and plastics.
Hexachloroethane does not occur naturally
in the environment. It is no longer made in the United States,
but it is formed as a by-product in the production of some
chemicals. Some hexachloroethane can be formed by incinerators
when materials containing chlorinated hydrocarbons are burned.
Hexachloroethane itself does not catch fire easily. Some hexachloroethane
can also be formed when chlorine reacts with carbon compounds
in drinking water.
What happens to hexachloroethane when it enters the environment?
- Hexachloroethane can be released to the environment during
its production, use, transport, or disposal.
- In air, hexachloroethane does not break down to other
- Some hexachloroethane that is in lakes or streams and
surface soils will evaporate into the air.
- Microscopic organisms can break it down more easily without
oxygen than with oxygen.
- Hexachloroethane does not appear to build up in plants
or animals used for food.
How might I be exposed to hexachloroethane?
- If you work in an industry that uses hexachloroethane,
such as aluminum smelting, you could be exposed by breathing
it or touching it.
- If you live near a hazardous waste site, you might be
exposed to hexachloroethane by breathing contaminated air,
by drinking contaminated water, or by touching contaminated
- You might be exposed to it from the air near military
installations where smoke pots and grenades that contain
hexachloroethane are used during training.
- You are not likely to be exposed to hexachloroethane from
How can hexachloroethane affect my health?
Mild skin irritation has been reported
by workers at a munitions factory who were exposed to low
levels of hexachloroethane. The workers were wearing protective
clothing that greatly reduced exposure. No other information
is available concerning health effects in people exposed to
Based on animal studies, hexachloroethane
in air can irritate your nose and lungs and cause some buildup
of mucus in your nose, much like an allergy. It can also irritate
your eyes and make them tear.
If you breathe high levels of hexachloroethane
vapor, your facial muscles may twitch or you may have difficulty
moving. However, these effects have been seen in animals exposed
to levels far greater than those found during its use or those
expected in areas near a hazardous waste site.
Hexachloroethane is not a very toxic
substance. If you are exposed to a large amount for a long
time, your liver could be affected. There is also a slight
chance that your kidneys could be damaged. Animal studies
have not shown hexachloroethane to cause birth defects or
to affect reproduction.
How likely is hexachloroethane to cause cancer?
Liver tumors developed in mice that were
orally exposed to hexachloroethane for their whole lifetime.
Hexachloroethane will not necessarily have the same effect
on people. Male rats that were exposed to hexachloroethane
for their lifetime developed kidney tumors. This type of tumor
is not found in people, so it is unlikely that exposure to
hexachloroethane would cause you to develop cancer of the
The Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS) has determined that hexachloroethane may reasonably
be anticipated to be a carcinogen.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to hexachloroethane?
Samples of your blood, urine, or feces
can be tested to see if you were exposed to hexachloroethane.
These tests aren't available at most doctors' offices, but
can be done at special laboratories that have the right equipment.
They are useful only if you were exposed 24-48 hours before
you saw the doctor and cannot predict whether you will experience
any health effects.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) has set a limit of 1 part hexachloroethane per million
parts of workplace air (1 ppm) over an 8-hour workday, 40-hour
The EPA suggests that water consumed
over a lifetime contain no more than 1 part hexachloroethane
per billion parts water (1 ppb).
Carcinogen: A substance with the ability
to cause cancer.
CAS: Chemical Abstracts Service.
Evaporate: To enter the air as a vapor.
Fungicide: A substance that kills fungus.
Insecticide: A substance that kills insects.
Tumor: An abnormal mass of tissue.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR). 1997. Toxicological Profile for hexachloroethane. 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
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.