Titanium tetrachloride is a colorless to pale yellow liquid that has fumes with a strong odor. If it comes in contact with water, it rapidly forms hydrochloric acid, as well as titanium compounds. In 1990, approximately 1.5 million tons of titanium tetrachloride were produced in the United States.
Titanium tetrachloride is not found naturally in the environment and is made from minerals that contain titanium. It is used to make titanium metal and other titanium-containing compounds, such as titanium dioxide, which is used as a white pigment in paints and other products, and as an intermediary to produce other chemicals.
Pathways in the enviroment
Titanium tetrachloride enters the environment primarily as air emissions from facilities that make or use it in various chemical processes or as a result of spills. If moisture is present in the air, titanium tetrachloride reacts with the moisture to form hydrochloric acid and other titanium compounds, such as titanium hydroxide and titanium oxychlorides. The end-products produced when titanium tetrachloride reacts with water are titanium dioxide and hydrochloric acid. The hydrochloric acid may break down or be carried in the air. Some of the titanium compounds may settle out to soil or water. In water, they sink into the bottom sediments. They may remain for a long time in the soil or sediments. Some other titanium compounds, such as titanium dioxide, are also found in the air and water.
Titanium tetrachloride has not been found in water, soil, food, or air except in the workplace. Because titanium tetrachloride breaks down so rapidly in the environment, you would probably not be exposed to it unless you worked in a facility that made or used it, or you were exposed to it as a result of a spill. If you work at such a facility, you may breathe in air that contains it or breathe fumes of hydrochloric acid. You could also breathe in particles of titanium dioxide or titanium metal dust. If titanium tetrachloride spills, you may get it on your skin. In 1980, about 2,100 workers may have been exposed to titanium tetrachloride in the workplace. Since titanium tetrachloride breaks down rapidly in the environment, it is unlikely that you would be exposed to it at disposal sites.
No other information has been found on the presence of titanium tetrachloride in air, water, soil, or foods that would suggest that you may be exposed to it from these sources.
Pathways in the body
The fumes from titanium tetrachloride can easily enter your body if you breathe air that is contaminated with it. In your nose and lungs, these fumes may cause burns. Particles that contain titanium may remain in your lungs or nearby tissue. Titanium tetrachloride and its breakdown products do not appear to enter other parts of your body.
To protect the public from the harmful effects of toxic chemicals and to find ways to treat people who have been harmed, scientists use many tests. One way to see if a chemical will hurt people is to learn how the chemical is absorbed, used, and released by the body; for some chemicals, animal testing may be necessary. Animal testing may also be used to identify health effects such as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory animals, scientists would lose a basic method to get information needed to make wise decisions to protect public health. Scientists have the responsibility to treat research animals with care and compassion. Laws today protect the welfare of research animals, and scientists must comply with strict animal care guidelines.
Titanium tetrachloride can be very irritating to the skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and the lungs. Titanium tetrachloride is corrosive because it reacts strongly with water to produce hydrochloric acid. The reaction products, especially hydrochloric acid, cause the harmful health effects and burns that can occur after exposure to titanium tetrachloride. Breathing in large amounts of titanium tetrachloride can injure the lungs seriously enough to cause death. We do not know how much of the compound is necessary to cause death. After short-term exposure to titanium tetrachloride, less serious respiratory system effects can include coughing and tightness in the chest. More severe effects can include chemical bronchitis or pneumonia, and congestion of the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract. These effects can cause long-term effects such as the narrowing of the vocal cords, windpipe, and upper airways. Although there are no data on swallowing titanium tetrachloride, it is likely that eating large amounts of this chemical could also cause death.
Accidental exposure to liquid titanium tetrachloride can result in skin burns and can cause permanent damage to the eyes if they are not protected.
Some laboratory animals that breathed titanium tetrachloride fumes for 2 years developed lung tumors of a special type. However, there is no evidence that chronic exposure to titanium tetrachloride causes cancer in humans. There is not enough information to determine if titanium tetrachloride causes birth defects or affects reproduction. Titanium tetrachloride has not been classified for its carcinogenic properties.
There is no medical test to indicate whether you have been exposed to titanium tetrachloride. However, you can be tested for the presence of titanium dioxide or titanium metal, which are breakdown products of titanium tetrachloride. This test uses electron microscopes to examine lung tissue for particles that contain titanium. This test is not specific for titanium tetrachloride exposure, but it does indicate exposure to some titanium-containing substances. Also, the test does not indicate whether you may have potential health effects resulting from such exposure or the amount of titanium compound to which you were exposed.
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.