Carbon Tetrachloride: A Comprehensive Guide to its Uses, Dangers, and Sustainable Alternatives

What is Carbon tetrachloride?

Carbon tetrachloride is a non-flammable liquid with a sweet, Ether-like odor. It was commonly used as a cleaning fluid and grain fumigant until 1986. It is still utilized in the production of propellants and industrial chemicals. It can be present in pre-1970 spot remover containers and fire extinguishers.

What is Carbon tetrachloride

Where is carbon tetrachloride found?

Carbon tet evaporates rapidly. Also it has a higher density than water. When spilled in lakes or streams, it tends to sink. On soil, most of the chemical will evaporate. The resulting vapors will accumulate near the ground surface.

Exposure of Carbon tetrachloride

Carbon tetrachloride can easily evaporate from water, leading to potential exposure to its vapors during activities such as bathing, cooking, or washing with contaminated water.

The primary route of exposure for individuals to carbon tet in the environment is through the consumption of contaminated groundwater. Improper disposal of the chemical can result in groundwater contamination in nearby areas. As carbon tet is heavy, some of the spilled liquid will penetrate soil and reach groundwater. However, carbon tet does not readily migrate with groundwater. Additionally, plants growing in contaminated soil do not absorb or retain carbon tet.

Skin absorption is another possible means of exposure to carbon tet. Handling the chemical or contaminated soil, as well as bathing in contaminated water, can result in absorption through the skin.

Behavior of Carbon Tetrachloride

Behavior of Carbon Tetrachloride

Physical properties of Carbon Tetrachloride

  • Flammability
  • Odor
  • Density

Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) is a non-flammable compound. Its non-flammability ensures safety, while its distinct odor serves as a warning sign. With a density higher than water, it is valuable for separation processes. Also, its high boiling point and nonpolar solvent properties make it versatile for different applications. It is used for heat transfer and dissolution of nonpolar compounds. Overall, carbon tetrachloride is a reliable and efficient compound in solvent, cleaning, and industrial processes.

Environmental behavior of Carbon Tetrachloride

  • Evaporation
  • Sinking in water

Carbon tetrachloride, is a colorless liquid. Its behaviors include evaporation into the air, sinking in water, adsorption onto soil particles, and persistence in various environmental compartments. These behaviors contribute to its long-distance transport, air pollution, aquatic contamination, groundwater pollution, and potential toxicity to plants. Its use has been reduced because of its harmful effects. Understanding these behaviors is crucial for assessing risks and implementing mitigation strategies.

Physical properties of Carbon Tetrachloride  Environmental behavior of Carbon Tetrachloride

Routes of exposure of Carbon Tetrachloride

  • Inhalation
  • Ingestion,
  • Skin contact

Inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact can be caused due to Carbon Tetrachloride which is harmful. Inhalation occurs when the compound’s vapors or gases are breathed in, while ingestion happens through contaminated food or water. Skin contact occurs by touching the liquid or contaminated surfaces. This can have adverse health effects. This can be avoided by taking appropriate measures. This will help to minimize the risks.

Health Effects of Carbon Tetrachloride

Symptoms can manifest immediately or shortly after inhaling air with 100 ppm (100,000 ppbv) of carbon tet for 30 minutes or consuming as little as 1 milliliter of the chemical:

  • Liver or kidney issues that can persist for several days.
  • Blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, and nerve damage.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Irregular heartbeat and fluctuations in blood pressure.

Long-term exposure to carbon tet can lead to the following health effects:

  • Increased incidence of liver cancer in individuals occupationally exposed to carbon tet. Laboratory animals also developed liver cancer due to carbon tet.
  • High levels of carbon tet exposure may result in nerve damage, digestive disorders, weight loss, fatigue, confusion, depression, loss of color vision, and liver damage.

Environmental Effects of Carbon Tetrachloride

Contamination of groundwater and its consequences

There is the impact on water quality and human health due to Carbon tetrachloride. Exposure to contaminated groundwater can cause severe health issues, and the persistence of carbon tetrachloride necessitates extensive remediation for long-term water quality restoration.

Effects on ecosystems and plant life

Carbon tetrachloride adversely affects ecosystems and plant life. It contaminates aquatic ecosystems, disrupting the balance and causing harm to aquatic organisms. Terrestrial plants absorb it from contaminated soil, leading to growth inhibition, reduced crop yields, and potential species loss. These impacts have wide-ranging consequences for biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

Contamination of groundwater and its consequences  Effects on ecosystems and plant life  Carbon Tetrachloride Prevention Strategies

Carbon Tetrachloride Prevention Strategies

Implementing proper handling, storage, and disposal practices

This includes ensuring that carbon tetrachloride is handled by trained professionals using appropriate safety measures. Proper storage in secure containers and facilities can minimize the risk of accidental releases. Additionally, establishing effective disposal methods, such as incineration or other approved techniques, ensures the safe elimination of carbon tetrachloride without environmental contamination.

Promoting the use of alternative chemicals and technologies

Identifying and adopting safer alternatives to carbon tetrachloride in industrial processes and products can help reduce its overall usage and potential environmental impact. There can be an increase in sustainable practices through more research on technologies related to carbon tetrachloride.

Public awareness and education

Raising awareness about safe handling practices, promoting protective equipment usage, and emphasizing responsible disposal methods are crucial in preventing and mitigating carbon tetrachloride-related risks. This empowers individuals to make informed decisions and contributes to overall risk reduction.


In conclusion, the journey towards minimizing the environmental impact of carbon tetrachloride requires a collective effort from industries, researchers, and individuals. By embracing safer alternatives and sustainable practices, we can safeguard our planet’s health and well-being. Let us build a technology where our industrial processes are efficient and effective.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email