Gasoline is a colourless, pale brown, or pink volatile liquid that is produced refining crude petroleum oils. It is a complex mixture of more than 150 chemicals, including mostly hydrocarbons and paraffins, and small amounts of toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and benzene. Trace amounts of additives can also be found in gasoline, such as antiknock compounds, anti-icing and anti-rust agents, and metal deactivators. A gasoline’s chemical composition depends on factors such as source of the crude petroleum, manufacturer, and time of year. Gasoline may also be referred to as “petroleum spirit,” “petrol” or “gas”. See HSDB for more synonyms and product names.
Gasoline has been classified by IARC as a group 2B carcinogen, possibly carcinogenic to humans. Some epidemiological studies found elevated risks of cancer at these sites following occupational exposure: pancreas, kidneys, stomach, bladder, testicles, liver, and in the lymphatic and haematopoietic systems. However, few studies provided sufficient data to identify a dose-response relationship between gasoline exposure and cancer outcome.
There is limited evidence for the carcinogenicity of gasoline in experimental animals. One study found an increased incidence of skin tumours in mice exposed to naphtha, a crude petroleum distillate similar to gasoline. Inhalation studies in mice and rats exposed to gasoline have produced inconsistent results.
Gasoline exposure can cause other harmful effects to the human body, usually due to individual chemicals in the gasoline mixture, such as benzene and lead. Health effects include irritation of respiratory tract, stomach, and skin as a result of inhalation, ingestion, and handling, respectively. Inhalation of gasoline vapours or ingestion in large amounts may result in acute nervous system effects such as cardiac arrhythmias, dizziness, headaches, coma, respiratory arrest, and death. Chronic exposures may also result in neurologic, developmental and genotoxic effects.
Gasoline was not listed in available environmental guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (due to its complexity) or Residential Indoor Air Quality.[12,14]
DSL – high priority substance with intermediate potential for exposure
DSL = Domestic Substances List
Gasoline was not included in the CEPA List of Toxic Substances.
Gasoline is used primarily as fuel for internal combustion engines.
Gasoline may also be used as an extractant or dilutant for essential oils, a solvent for rubber adhesives, a detergent for precision instruments, and as a finishing agent for artificial leathers.
Canadian Production and Trade
43.4 million m3 of 'motor gasoline'
42.3 million m3 of 'motor gasoline'
7.9 million m3 of ‘motor gasoline’
3.2 million m3 of ‘finished motor gasoline’
5.3 million m3 of 'motor gasoline'
1.1 million m3 of ‘finished motor gasoline’
Inhalation is the major route of exposure to gasoline, though exposure through ingestion and dermal contact can also occur.
Occupational exposure to gasoline vapours may occur during the production, transport or distribution of gasoline.
An increased risk of exposure to gasoline vapors is found in service station attendants, gasoline tank truck drivers, workers at bulk loading terminals and marine loading docks, workers who remove and service underground storage tanks and gasoline pipelines, workers who clean up gasoline spills and leaks, and refinery workers.
The general population’s main exposure to gasoline occurs via inhalation of gasoline vapours during refuelling of automobiles and refuelling or use of other gasoline-powered equipment, such as lawnmowers. Exposure may also occur via close proximity to gasoline spills, i.e. off-gassing from soils, or use of contaminated water.
After a gasoline spill or leak, some of its chemical components evaporate, whereas others may dissolve and contaminate groundwater and soil.
Leaking gasoline storage tanks contribute to groundwater contamination in Canada. The corrosion of underground gasoline tanks installed in large numbers in the 1950s and 1960s has resulted in an increasing number of leaks in recent decades. This is an issue of particular importance in Atlantic Canada, where groundwater is widely used.
Exposure to gasoline components may occur through the consumption of contaminated water. However, most chemicals found in gasoline are removed by municipal drinking water treatment procedures.
When used as a fuel, gasoline produces a number of chemicals that are emitted in engine exhaust. Some of the gasoline used by engines may also vaporize into the air without undergoing combustion.
Since 1990, Canada has prohibited the production, import and sale of leaded gasoline to minimize the risks of lead exposure from gasoline. Exemptions to this regulation include the use of lead in gasoline for competition vehicles, aviation gasoline, farm equipment, boats and trucks weighing >3856 kg. Information on lead exposure is available through the Lead Profile published by CAREX.
Gasoline is not reportable to the NPRI in Canada.
One household product, a gasoline additive, is listed in the US Household Products Database with gasoline as an ingredient.
Our team has performed a detailed scan of exposure control resources and assembled a compilation of key publications and resources. These are organized by type of exposure (environmental or occupational) and by specificity (general or carcinogen-specific). Please visit our Exposures Reduction Resources page to view.
We also recommend exploring the Prevention Policies Directory, a freely-accessible online tool offering information on policies related to cancer and chronic disease prevention. Providing summaries of the policies and direct access to the policy documents, the Directory allows users to search by carcinogen, risk factor, jurisdiction, geographical location, and document type. To learn more about policies specific to gasoline on the Directory, click here. For questions about this resource, please contact Michelle Halligan, from the prevention team at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.