Chlorobenzene is a colorless liquid with an almond-like odor. The compound does not occur widely in nature, but is manufactured for use as a solvent (a substance used to dissolve other substances) and is used in the production of other chemicals.
Structural diagram: National Institutes of Health
Fate & Transport
Chlorobenzene persists in soil (several months), in air (3.5 days), and water (less than 1 day).
There is potential for humans to be exposed to chlorobenzene by breathing contaminated air, by drinking water or eating food contaminated with chlorobenzene, or by getting chlorobenzene-contaminated soil on the skin. These exposures are most likely to occur in the workplace or in the vicinity of chemical waste sites.
Occupational exposure occurs primarily through breathing the chemical. Personnel engaged in the production and handling of chlorobenzene would be at greatest risk. Levels of chlorobenzene in the air at several industrial sites during normal operations were found to be below allowable federal standards.
Exposure in humans could occur in persons living or working in the vicinity of hazardous waste sites if emissions to water, air, and soil are not adequately controlled. Chlorobenzene has been found at 97 out of 1,177 NPL hazardous waste sites in the United States. Thus, federal and state surveys suggest that chlorobenzene is not a widespread environmental contaminant. The chemical has not been detected in surface water, although a few groundwater systems have been found with chlorobenzene levels in the parts per billion (ppb) range. Background levels of less than 1 ppb were detected in air samples from urban and suburban areas. No information on the occurrence of chlorobenzene in food has been found.
Chlorobenzene enters your body when you breathe in air containing it, when you drink water or eat food containing it, or when it comes in contact with your skin. Human exposure to contaminated water could occur near hazardous waste sites where chlorobenzene is present. Significant exposure to chlorobenzene is not expected to occur by getting chlorobenzene contaminated soil on your skin. When chlorobenzene enters your body, most of it is expelled from your lungs in the air you breathe out and in urine.
Workers exposed to high levels of chlorobenzene complained of headaches, numbness, sleepiness, nausea, and vomiting. However, it is not known if chlorobenzene alone was responsible for these health effects since the workers may have also been exposed to other chemicals at the same time. Mild to severe depression of functions of parts of the nervous system is a common response to exposure to a wide variety of industrial solvents (a substance that dissolves other substances).
In animals, exposure to high concentrations of chlorobenzene affects the brain, liver, and kidneys. Unconsciousness, tremors and restlessness have been observed. The chemical can cause severe injury to the liver and kidneys. Data indicate that chlorobenzene does not affect reproduction or cause birth defects. Studies in animals have shown that chlorobenzene can produce liver nodules, providing some but not clear evidence of cancer risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that chlorobenzene is not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity.
Information excerpted from:
Toxicological Profile for Chlorobenzene December 1990