Health effects of 1,2-dichloropropane


1,2-Dichloropropane is a colorless liquid belonging to a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It has a chloroform-like odor and evaporates quickly at room temperature. It is a man-made chemical and people are probably responsible for all releases of 1,2-dichloropropane into the environment. 1,2-Dichloropropane is now used in the United States only in research and industry.

Before the early 1980s, 1,2-dichloropropane was used in farming as a soil fumigant and was found in some paint strippers, varnishes, and furniture finish removers. Most of the 1,2-dichloropropane released into the environment finally ends up in the air or groundwater.

When applied to soil in one experiment, all but 1 percent dispersed in 10 days. Breakdown in both the air and groundwater is slow. The rate at which a chemical breaks down is usually explained by how long it takes for half the chemical to disappear (half-life). The half-life of 1,2-dichloropropane in air is not known exactly, but it is longer than 23 days, which means that 1,2-dichloropropane can spread to areas far from where it is released. In groundwater, the half-life of 1,2-dichloropropane is estimated to be between 6 months and 2 years.

Exposure to 1,2-dichloropropane

Air levels of 1,2-dichloropropane are usually quite low. In city areas of the United States, the average amount in air is about 22 parts per trillion (ppt). 1,2-Dichloropropane is found in a few drinking water supplies, and most of those are from groundwater sources. A nationwide survey of groundwater supplies showed that 1.4 percent of these supplies contained 1,2-dichloropropane levels at around 1 part per billion (ppb). The highest amount of 1,2-dichloropropane in the survey was 21 ppb. Private wells in farming areas where 1,2-dichloropropane was once used as a soil fumigant have the greatest risk for contamination.

Occupational exposure to 1,2-dichloropropane may result during its production, its use in chemical reactions and as an industrial solvent, and evaporation from wastewater that contains the chemical. Workers involved in cleaning up hazardous waste or spill sites that contain 1,2-dichloropropane may also be exposed. A national survey conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 1981-1983 estimated that 2119 workers outside of the farming sector were exposed to 1,2-dichloropropane.

Use of this chemical has recently decreased very much, however, so that the number of exposed workers may now be much lower. According to industry spokesmen, levels of exposure among exposed workers range from less than 1 part per million (ppm) to less than 25 ppm, depending on the industry. 1,2-Dichloropropane was found in 26 of the 1177 hazardous waste sites on the National Priority List (NPL) and gases from these sites may contain low levels of 1,2-dichloropropane.

Pathways for 1,2-dichloropropane in the body

1,2-Dichloropropane can enter the body if a person breathes air or drinks water contaminated with it, or if a person's skin comes in contact with it. If 1,2-dichloropropane is present at a waste site near homes that use wells as a source of water, the well water could be contaminated. A route of major exposure in the past was by accidentally or intentionally drinking cleaning products that contained 1,2-dichloropropane, but these cleaning materials are no longer produced in the United States.

Experiments with animals have shown that when 1,2-dichloropropane enters the body through eating or drinking, it is quickly removed in the urine and feces and by the lungs when the animal breathes out. 1,2-Dichloropropane may enter the lungs of workers exposed where it is used indoors as a solvent.

If 1,2-dichloropropane is released at a waste site and evaporates into the air, a person may breathe in 1,2-dichloropropane for a short time before it disperses. When the chemical was a part of some paint strippers, varnishes, and furniture finish removers, exposure of the skin through contact with these products occurred; however, the amount of 1,2-dichloropropane that entered through the skin is unknown. Soil around a waste site may be contaminated with 1,2-dichloropropane, but it is not known how much 1,2-dichloropropane enters the body through the skin upon contact with contaminated soil.

Health effects of 1,2-dichloropropane

Drinking 1,2-dichloropropane by humans (i.e., drinking cleaning solutions) has produced poisoning. At these high levels of exposure, effects include dizziness, headache, nausea, injury to the liver and kidneys, anemia, coma and, ultimately, death. Breathing high levels of 1,2-dichloropropane by humans, as in deliberate breathing of vapors from cleaning solutions, produces similar effects. No reports have been made of any health effects in humans following low-level exposure to 1,2-dichloropropane for either short or long time periods.

You should know that one way to learn whether a chemical will harm people is to determine how the body absorbs, uses, and releases the chemical. For some chemicals, animal testing may be necessary. Animal testing may also help identify such health effects as cancer or birth defects. Without laboratory animals, scientists would lose a basic method for getting information needed to make wise decisions that protect public health. Scientists have the responsibility to treat research animals with care and compassion. Scientists must comply with strict animal care guidelines because laws today protect the welfare of research animals.

Additionally, there are vigorous national and international efforts to develop alternatives to animal testing. The efforts focus on both in vitro and in silico approaches and methods. For example, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) created the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) in 1998. The role of NICEATM is to serve the needs of high quality, credible science by facilitating development and validation—and regulatory and public acceptance—of innovative, revised test methods that reduce, refine, and replace the use of animals in testing while strengthening protection of human health, animal health and welfare, and the environment. In Europe, similar efforts at developing alternatives to animal based testing are taking place under the aegis of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM).

In animal experiments, low amounts of 1,2-dichloropropane breathed in over short- and long-term periods result in damage to the liver, kidney, and respiratory systems, while high amounts resulted in death. Short-term exposure to high levels of vapors also causes irritation to the eyes and throat. When 1,2-dichloropropane is given by mouth to animals over shorter long-term periods, damage to the liver and kidneys is seen at low doses, and death occurs at high doses.

1,2-Dichloropropane breathed or eaten for a short time has not been reported to produce cancer in humans, but long-term exposure by mouth in animals has produced evidence of liver cancer in mice and breast cancer in female rats. The significance of the animal cancer studies to humans is not well understood. Irritation of the skin after contact with 1,2-dichloropropane has been seen in both humans and rabbits.

1,2-Dichloropropane has not been shown to cause birth defects in humans or animals, but a delay in the growth of bones has been seen in fetal rats following exposure of the mother rats.

Medical tests for exposure to 1,2-dichloropropane

Tests are available to detect 1,2-dichloropropane in the urine and the blood. Such tests are known as biomonitoring. The available methods can predict the concentration of 1,2-dichloropropane in the air from levels in the urine, but not from levels in the blood. The levels of 1,2-dichloropropane in the urine, however, cannot predict specific health effects. The method for testing the urine is simple, but because special equipment is needed, the test is not yet routinely available. Because 1,2-dichloropropane leaves the body quickly, it is best to test for it soon after exposure.

Further Reading

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.



(2008). Health effects of 1,2-dichloropropane. Retrieved from


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