Carbon Disulfide



Pure carbon disulfide is a colorless liquid with a pleasant odor that is like the smell of chloroform. The impure carbon disulfide that is usually used in most industrial processes is a yellowish liquid with an unpleasant odor, like that of rotting radishes. Carbon disulfide evaporates at room temperature, and the vapor is more than twice as heavy as air. It easily explodes in air and also catches fire very easily. In nature, small amounts of carbon disulfide are found in gases released to the earth's surface as, for example, in volcanic eruptions or over marshes. Commercial carbon disulfide is made by combining carbon and sulfur at very high temperatures.

Structural diagram: National Institutes of Health

Fate & Transport

The amount of carbon disulfide released into the air through natural processes is difficult to judge because it is so small.

Carbon disulfide evaporates rapidly when released to the environment.

Most carbon disulfide in the air and surface water is from manufacturing and processing activities.

It is found naturally in coastal and ocean waters.

Carbon disulfide does not stay dissolved in water very long, and it also moves through soils fairly quickly.

Carbon disulfide does not appear to be taken up in significant amounts by the organisms living in water.

Exposure Pathways

The people most often exposed to carbon disulfide are workers in plants that use carbon disulfide in their manufacturing processes.

People may be exposed by breathing air, drinking water, or eating foods that contain it.

People may also be exposed through skin contact with soil, water, or other substances that contain carbon disulfide.

Health Effects

At very high levels, carbon disulfide may be life-threatening because of its effects on the nervous system. People who breathed carbon disulfide near an accident involving a railroad car showed changes in breathing and some chest pains. Some workers who breathed high levels during working hours for at least 6 months had headaches, tiredness, and trouble sleeping. However, these workers may have been exposed to other chemicals besides carbon disulfide. Among workers who breathed lower levels, some developed very slight changes in their nerves. Studies in animals indicate that carbon disulfide can affect the normal functions of the brain, liver, and heart. After pregnant rats breathed carbon disulfide in the air, some of the newborn rats died or had birth defects. High concentrations of carbon disulfide have caused skin burns when the chemical accidentally touched people's skin.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the EPA have not classified carbon disulfide for carcinogenicity. There are no definitive data in humans or animals that indicate a carcinogenic potential for carbon disulfide.

One chemical test using urine can be done to tell whether the levels of breakdown substances from carbon disulfide are higher than normal. However, the test is not specific for carbon disulfide exposure. A second test based on a specific breakdown substance is more sensitive and specific. It also requires special equipment and cannot tell you exactly how much carbon disulfide you were exposed to or predict whether harmful effects will occur. These tests aren't available at most doctors' offices, but can be done at special laboratories that have the right equipment.

Information excerpted from:

Toxicological Profile for Carbon Disulfide 1996

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services