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How Risky Are Dry Erase Marker Fumes?

By Expert Author: Mark Wright


The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety site publishes these cautions about Toluene and Xylene, which is also called Methylbenzene or Toluol.

The WHMIS classification is "very toxic". Toluene could be fatal if you drink it. It can damage unborn babies if the pregnant mother inhales toxic toluene vapour.

If you smell it in a confined area such as a lecture theater, your nose may start hurting, and it can cause damage to your nervous system too. You may lose consciousness from severe exposure, but if you still have your wits about you, you can start suspecting the toluene vapour that you have breathed from your white board markers when you start noticing the following problems.
* Dizziness
* Headache
* Drowsiness
* Confusion
* Nausea

Contact with your eyes or skin can cause pathological conditions similar to inhaling it, because it is absorbed through the skin. If you suck it from markers for chlidren for instance and some gets into your lungs it can cause enoug damage to your lungs and kill you.

If you work in a noisy environment (such as a classroom) and you smell toluene vapour, it can exacerbate your industrial deafness.

First Aid for Toluene or Xylene

Prevent fire by removing all sources of ignition. You can't remove the chance of a static spark, but that can't be avoided.

If the toxin has been breathed, rush the victim to fresh air (for example evacuate the classroom if you smell the dry erase solvent). If anyone feels unwell, call a poisons centre without delay.

If you get it on your skin (fortunately you can tell it's on your skin if it's the solvent for your dry-erase markers because of the unusual skin colour) then wash gently (you don't want to break blisters) and completely with a soap that is gentle and non-abrasive, in just-warm water, and hold under a flowing tap that is just warm for fifteen minutes or more.

If you get it in your eyes, flush them under a lukewarm gently-flowing tap for five minutes while holding the eyelids open with your fingers. If the eyes are still sore, see a doctor.

If vomiting occurs, make the victim lean forward to decrease the risk of breathing it back into the lungs - which could cause fatal lung damage.


This chemical can also be disguised as Dimethylbenzene, Methyltoluene or Xylol

The WHMIS classification is "very toxic".

Health risks are very similar to those of Toluene, so I won't describe them here, but the fire hazard seems to be much worse. Xylene vapour in the air can even be sparked off by static electricity, and cause an explosion.

Water Health Hazards as a Solvent

Apparently if you drink several gallons of water each and every day you can get "water intoxication". I didn't know that it was possible to drink so much water!

Bigger threats are the fluoride and chlorine in drinking water, and even more problematic are the DBP (Disinfectant By Products) resulting from killing bacteria in your drinking water. DBPs can be 1000 times as toxic as the fluoride in water that you drink.

However, white board markers using water as a solvent use quantities of water that would not be dangerous to drink, and don't give off toxic fumes. Water vapour is not a fire hazard, and only very young children claim that water damages their skin. And some makes of water-soluble inks in markers for kids can be washed from clothing in water without even using soap or detergent.

Beware: You may find markers that say "Toluene Free" or "No Toluene" and they use Xylene instead as the solvent.

The main disadvantage of water-based markers is that your writing takes more time to dry, but that means that "new" markers that you buy are less likely to have dried out in the warehouse before you get them.

You can find more about safe markers at http://WrightMarkers.com

My name is Mark Wright, and I hate using tools that are dangerous or don't do what they should. Click to discover more about next generation white-board markers that do work properly and are safe.

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