Hydrocarbons are used widely as solvents, degreasers, fuels, and lubricants. Besides inadvertent exposure, poisoning also commonly occurs from inhalation of volatile hydrocarbon gases used as drugs of abuse. Hydrocarbons include organic compounds derived from petroleum distillation as well as many other sources, including plant oils, animal fats, and coal. Subcategories of hydrocarbons include aliphatic (saturated carbon structure), aromatic (containing one or more benzene rings), halogenated (containing chlorine, bromine, or fluorine atoms), alcohols and glycols, ethers, ketones, carboxylic acids, and many others. This chapter emphasizes toxicity caused by common household hydrocarbons. See specific chemicals elsewhere in Section II and in Table IV–4.
Mechanism of toxicity. Hydrocarbons may cause direct injury to the lung after pulmonary aspiration or systemic intoxication after ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption (Table II–31). Many hydrocarbons are also irritating to the eyes and skin.
Table II-31 Hydrocarbon Ingestion |Favorite Table|Download (.pdf)
Table II-31 Hydrocarbon Ingestion
Risk for Systemic Toxicity After Ingestion
Risk for Chemical Aspiration Pneumonia
No systemic toxicity, high viscosity
Petrolatum jelly, motor oil
No systemic toxicity, low viscosity
Observe for pneumonia; do not empty stomach.
Gasoline, kerosene, petroleum naphtha, mineral seal oil, petroleum ether
Unknown or uncertain systemic toxicity
Observe for pneumonia; consider removal by nasogastric suction and/or administration of activated charcoal if ingestion is more than 2 mL/kg.
Turpentine, pine oil
Observe for pneumonia; consider removal by nasogastric suction and/or administration of activated charcoal.
Camphor, phenol, halogenated or aromatic compounds
Pulmonary aspiration. Chemical pneumonitis is caused by direct tissue damage and disruption of surfactant. Aspiration risk is greatest for hydrocarbons with low viscosity and low surface tension (eg, petroleum naphtha, gasoline, turpentine).
Aliphatic hydrocarbons and simple petroleum distillates such as lighter fluid, kerosene, furniture polish, and gasoline are poorly absorbed from the GI tract and do not pose a significant risk for systemic toxicity after ingestion as long as they are not aspirated.
In contrast, many aromatic and halogenated hydrocarbons, alcohols, ethers, ketones, and other substituted or complex hydrocarbons are capable of causing serious systemic toxicity, such as coma, seizures, and cardiac arrhythmias.
Inhalation of hydrocarbon vapors in an enclosed space may cause intoxication as a result of systemic absorption or displacement of oxygen from the atmosphere; in addition, sensitization of the myocardium to catecholamines can cause cardiac dysrhythmias.
Injection of hydrocarbons into skin, subcutaneous tissue, or muscle may cause a severe local inflammatory reaction and liquefaction necrosis.
Skin and eye contact can cause local irritation. Dermal absorption can be significant for some agents but is insignificant for most of the simple aliphatic compounds.
Toxic dose. The toxic dose is variable, depending on the agent involved and whether it is aspirated, ingested, injected, or inhaled.
Pulmonary aspiration of as little as a few milliliters may produce chemical pneumonitis.
Ingestion of as little as 10–20 mL of some systemic toxins, such as camphor ...