Methanol is a highly toxic chemical used in antifreeze, solvents, and gasoline.
What is methanol?
Methanol is a highly toxic colorless liquid that may explode when exposed to flames. Other common names for methanol are methyl alcohol and wood alcohol. Methanol occurs naturally in wood and volcanic gases and is a product of decaying organic material such as vegetation. It is also emitted from gasoline and diesel engines and from burning trash and plastics. The chemical formula for methanol is CH4O.
Methanol is used in antifreeze products and as a solvent and is an ingredient of gasoline. It is used as an ingredient of some paint strippers. It is used in wall and spray paints, paint thinner, shellac, varnish, carburetor cleaners, inks, resins, adhesives, dyes, plastics, car windshield washer compounds, some insulation products, copy machine fluids, and some pesticides. In some vehicles, it is used as an alternative fuel and is used as a fuel for picnic stoves. It is also used in semi-conductor manufacturing; antibacterial substances used on mortuary instruments, cadavers, and biological specimens; oil recovery injection; and in the production of some pharmaceuticals, such as vitamins and hormones. It has been used in the treatment against Dutch elm disease and fungi on timbers, wood fence posts and poles, and lumber.How might I be exposed to methanol?
At home, you can be exposed to methanol if you use consumer products such as wall and spray paints, paint strippers, adhesives, cleaners, insulation products, pesticides, and car windshield washer fluid or antifreeze. Exposure can occur from breathing air that contains methanol from natural sources or vehicle exhaust and from drinking or eating contaminated water or food.
At work, you can be exposed to methanol if you use solvents, wall and spray paints, paint strippers, adhesives, inks, wood fungi treatments, or industrial cleaners. You can be exposed if you work with vehicles and have contact with windshield washer fluids, alternative fuels, antifreeze, and fuel exhaust. You can be exposed if you work at a pharmaceutical or semi-conducting manufacturing facility, mortuary, or oil recovery facility.
You can be exposed to methanol if you live near a volcano that has erupted or near decomposing organic material, sewage, or sludge.How can methanol affect my health?
Swallowing, breathing, or absorbing large quantities of methanol through the skin, as in an industrial setting, can cause death. Exposure to methanol can cause visual problems and lead to blindness. It can cause convulsions, coma, loss of consciousness, kidney failure, liver damage, low blood pressure, respiratory arrest, and damage to the central nervous system.
Chronic exposure to methanol can result in methanol poisoning, which may cause inflammation of the eye, recurrent headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, visual failure, and dermatitis.
Short-term exposure to methanol can cause difficulty breathing, lack of coordination, blurred vision, dermatitis, headache, dizziness, insomnia, confusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation of the pancreas, conjunctivitis, stomach problems and pain, weakness, leg cramps, and excessive sweating.
You may be at an increased risk when exposed to methanol if you have an existing skin, kidney, liver, or eye disorder.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to methanol, contact your health care professional.
For poison emergencies or questions about possible poisons, contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Map of Releases of Methanol in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Methanol (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 54.17 KB)
Methanol. Alternative Fuels Data Center (Dept. of Energy)
Methanol. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Methanol. Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
Methanol:Systemic Agent. Emergency Response Safety and Health Database (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)
Methyl Alcohol. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Methyl Alcohol. Safety and Health Topics (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
Last Updated: March 31, 2016