An organic solvent is a type of volatile organic compound (VOC). VOCs are organic chemicals which vaporise at room temperature.

Organic compounds used as solvents include:

  • aromatic compounds, e.g. benzene and toluene
  • alcohols, e.g. methanol
  • esters and ethers
  • ketones, e.g. acetone
  • amines
  • nitrated and halogenated hydrocarbons.

Organic solvents are often used:

  • to dissolve substances
  • to disperse coatings
  • as media for chemical reactions
  • as cleaning agents.

They are also often used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products, footwear, paints, varnishes and adhesives.

Organic solvents react in the atmosphere in sunlight, producing an air pollutant known as 'ground-level ozone'. High concentrations of ground-level ozone seriously affect human, animal and plant health. They also harm building materials, forests and crops.

Many organic solvents are classified as toxic or carcinogenic. They can cause significant air and water pollution, and land contamination.

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