How to Dispose of Xylene? (Safely)

Xylene is an organic solvent that is widely used in the industry, pathology labs, and for painting. Xylene is a clear, sweet-smelling liquid that is highly flammable, volatile, and can be very toxic in higher doses. It is an aromatic compound with three isomers, and the most commercially available xylene is a blend of these three isomers, o-xylene, m-xylene, and p-xylene.

Xylene is categorized as a hazardous waste in most parts of the world and thus cannot be poured down the drain, or thrown out into the trash. There is a specific protocol for disposing of xylene and violating this protocol puts the environment and human health in harm’s way. This article will go over how to properly dispose of xylene, how to store it, and why improper handling is potentially dangerous to health. 

How to dispose of Xylene? 

Depending on where you are, the disposal method for xylene will vary. In most places, xylene is dropped off at the hazardous waste collection center or picked up and sent to the center.

No matter where you live, you cannot discard xylene down the drain or throw it into the garbage. It is a toxic and hazardous chemical, and it should be disposed of according to the hazardous waste guidelines. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States, Xylene is considered a hazardous chemical that can be extremely toxic if inhaled or ingested. Thus, in the US, it is illegal to dispose of xylene improperly. 

Xylene is considered a hazardous chemical in Europe and most of Asia as well. 

The safest way to dispose of it is to drop it off at a nearby hazardous wastes facility or give it away when the workers collect hazardous waste. It’s important to note if your local municipality collects these chemicals or if you are required to drop them off. In many cases, there are certain dates of the month when the collection takes place, it’s best to check it out. 

In the United States, you can look up earth11.com. This website is the most comprehensive recycling website in the US. You can write down hazardous waste and then type your zip code. The website will tell you where the nearest Hazardous waste collection is; in case there are none available in your area, you should contact the local EPA office for the drop-off. 

There are certain guidelines you have to maintain to discard xylene.

You need to make sure the chemical is in the original bottle you purchased it in. If by any chance you don’t have the original bottle, then make sure you put the liquid in an air-tight bottle that is labeled. Make sure you label the bottle well.

Unlabelled bottles cause the waste treatment facilities a great deal of trouble. Please refrain from throwing out unlabeled chemicals. 

It is very important you read the materials safety data sheet (MSDS) or the safety data sheet (SDS) when you purchase the chemical. It has the necessary storage information, and all the potential risks it poses, so it is imperative that you read it carefully. 

If you are using xylene in a research facility then it is likely you already have a protocol in place on how to dispose of xylene. Make sure you read the instructions thoroughly before disposing of xylene. 

Overall, xylene is a hazardous chemical whose disposal method is not standardized in most parts of the world. Even inside the United States, the disposal of xylene varies from state to state. This is why it is extremely important you read up on the local guidelines on how your local government, municipality, or county specifies how to dispose of xylene. 

Storage conditions for xylene: 

Xylene is a highly flammable chemical that is also extremely volatile. It should be kept in a dry, cold space, away from sunlight. The bottle cap of the container must be sealed shut, as xylene easily evaporates and lingers in the air. 

Xylene vapor is denser than air, this puts anyone working with xylene in an enclosed space at risk of asphyxiation. 

Make sure whenever you are working with xylene is well ventilated, and away from open flames or any electronics that give off any spark. 

Toxic effects of xylene: 

Xylene is a highly toxic material. It is a volatile liquid, the vapor form of xylene can be easily absorbed by the lungs and mixed into the blood readily. Moreover, xylene is fat-soluble, which means it can make its way through our skin if our skin makes any contact with it. 

Xylene, when it comes in contact with skin, can cause rashes, scaling, skin irritation, and dryness. In case xylene spills on your clothes or skin, immediately remove all clothing and stand under the shower. Wash the parts exposed to xylene for at least 5 minutes. 

Acute exposure to xylene by inhalation causes dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, itching of the eye, discomfort in the nose and throat, dyspnea, etc. If xylene is inhaled, it is recommended to move to an outdoor space and ventilate the workspace. 

Chronic exposure to xylene by inhalation causes damage to the central nervous system (CNS), it causes loss of balance, short-term memory loss, dizziness, headache, anxiety, and incoordination.

Xylene has been found in fetuses’ blood, and there is a higher risk of spontaneous abortion in women who are exposed to xylene over prolonged periods. Xylene should be avoided while pregnant. 

Xylene if ingested in high amounts can cause death. It is not yet clear how xylene is toxic to us, we are yet to identify the signaling pathways it targets in our system. However, it is evident  that it’s quite toxic to us and thus should be handled with care. 

Xylene affects the ecosystem and human health: 

If xylene is not disposed of properly, and is thrown into the garbage or poured down the drain, it harms the environment. When it’s poured down the drain, it mixes with the water in local streams and rivers eventually. This puts aquatic life in danger. 

The xylene could potentially accumulate and magnify in amount as it moves up the food chain. We, humans, are at the top of the food chain and xylene in the aquatic streams eventually makes its way back to us, in our foods. 

Conclusion: 

Xylene is categorized as a hazardous waste in most parts of the world and thus cannot be poured down the drain, or thrown out into the trash. There is a specific protocol for disposing of xylene and violating this protocol puts the environment and human health in harm’s way. This article goes over how to properly dispose of xylene, how to store it, and why improper handling is potentially dangerous to health. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How to Dispose of Xylene (Safely)
Is xylene toxic? 

Yes, inhaling xylene can cause short-term problems like loss of balance, short-term memory loss, headaches, dizziness, irritation of the nose and throat. 

Long term exposure can affect the central nervous system

What is the safest way to dispose of xylene? 

Different cities have different protocols, but, as a general rule of thumb, seal the chemical in an air-tight container and hand it over to the hazardous waste collectors. Make sure your bottle is labeled. 

Can I pour xylene down the drain? 

No, it is toxic to aquatic life and can linger in the water for a long time. Moreover, there is a high risk that it’ll make its way into humans from aquatic animals. 

Can I just leave the bottle of xylene in a room so it evaporates? 

Not, it is a hazardous chemical and in many cities, there is a trace amount of xylene found in the air. This is very bad for our health and if the bottle is left in a poorly ventilated space it can potentially asphyxiate anyone who spends too much time in that area. 

Are there environmentally friendlier alternatives to xylene? 

It depends on your application of xylene. If you use it as a paint thinner, there are better options out there for xylene for that purpose. But if you work in a pathology lab and you use xylene for tissue processing, then it may be harder to replace. 

Is xylene carcinogenic? 

No, it is toxic but no evidence as of now implicates xylene as a carcinogen. 

References: 

  1. Safety Data Sheet (Xylene). (2022). Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://www.fishersci.com/store/msds?partNumber=O50814&productDescription=O-XYLENE+R+4L&vendorId=VN00033897&countryCode=US&language=en
  2. Types of Hazardous Waste Disposal Methods – AOTC. (2022). Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://a-otc.com/methods-of-hazardous-waste-disposal-for-businesses/
  3. Learn the Basics of Hazardous Waste | US EPA. (2022). Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/hw/learn-basics-hazardous-waste
  4. Ruelas, G. (2022). How to Dispose of Xylene (the right way) – How to Dispose of. Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://howtodispose.info/dispose-xylene/
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  7. (2022). Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://www.otago.ac.nz/health-safety/otago080557.pdf
  8. How do you dispose of xylene? | EveryThingWhat.com. (2022). Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://everythingwhat.com/how-do-you-dispose-of-xylene
  9. Bell-Young, L. (2022). What Is Xylene Used For? | The Chemistry Blog. Retrieved 3 February 2022, from https://www.chemicals.co.uk/blog/what-is-xylene-used-for
  10. Kandyala, R., Raghavendra, S., & Rajasekharan, S. (2010). Xylene: An overview of its health hazards and preventive measures. Journal Of Oral And Maxillofacial Pathology, 14(1), 1. doi: 10.4103/0973-029x.64299

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