The neurotoxicity of industrial solvents: a review of the literature

Am J Ind Med. 1985;8(3):207-17. doi: 10.1002/ajim.4700080306.


Organic solvents, particularly stryrene, are used widely in boatbuilding. They may be absorbed by workers either through the respiratory tract or the skin. Uptake is influenced by level and duration of exposure, work load, and specific physiochemical features of each solvent, as well as by work practices and use of protective equipment. Kinetics of metabolism and excretion kinetics are highly variable among compounds. Metabolites can be measured in blood, urine, or exhaled breath and may serve as indirect indices of absorption. Acute high-dose exposure to organic solvents can produce a transient narcotic effect on the central nervous system. This effect occurs in proportion to brain dose, which in turn is determined by intensity and duration of exposure. Additionally, chronic exposures to organic solvents have been reported to produce an increased frequency of neurologic signs and symptoms. These findings include peripheral neuropathies and toxic encephalopathies. The latter are characterized by alterations in affect, memory loss, and impaired cognition. Concern exists that prolonged excessive exposure to organic solvents may lead to premature and persistent dementia in certain workers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Maximum Allowable Concentration
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / prevention & control
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Occupations
  • Ships*
  • Skin Absorption
  • Solvents / metabolism
  • Solvents / toxicity*
  • Styrene
  • Styrenes / metabolism
  • Styrenes / toxicity*


  • Solvents
  • Styrenes
  • Styrene