Chloroform Profile

Chloroform Profile

General Information

Chloroform is a colourless, volatile liquid with an ethereal odour.[1] It is one of a group of compounds found as chlorination byproducts, known as trihalomethanes. It may also be referred to as trichloromethane or methane trichloride.[2] There are numerous other synonyms and product names; see the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) for more information.[3]

Other trihalomethanes include bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform. CAREX Canada reviewed Canadian exposure to chlorination disinfection by-products as a group; please see the specific carcinogen profile and estimate for more information.

In 1999, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified chloroform as Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on evidence in experimental animals.[2] Chloroform is a liver and kidney carcinogen in mice and rats.[2] Several epidemiological studies suggest that exposure to chloroform in chlorinated drinking water is associated with excess cancers, particularly of the bladder, colon, and rectum.[2] Causality, however, cannot be determined because of uncertainties, including confounding by other chlorination by-products.[2]

Additionally, chronic inhalation exposure to elevated levels of chloroform may cause damage to the liver and kidney, as well as neurological symptoms.[4] Acute inhalation exposure to chloroform can cause dizziness, fatigue, and headache.[4] Dermal contact can cause irritation and damage to the skin.[5]

Regulations and Guidelines

Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) [6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20]

Canadian Jurisdictions OEL (ppm)
Canada Labour Code 10
AB, MB, NB, NL,
NS, ON, PE, YT
10
BC 2 [rt]
NT, NU, SK ALARA
QC 5
Other Jurisdiction OEL (ppm)
ACGIH 2018 TLV 10
ppm = parts per million
rt = reproductive toxin
STEL = short term exposure limit
ALARA = as low as reasonably achievable
ACGIH = American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
TLV = threshold limit value

Canadian Environmental Guidelines

Jurisdiction Limit Year
Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria Annual: 0.2 µg/m3 2016[21]
  24 hour: 1 µg/m3 2012[21]
Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines For total trihalomethanes (THMs):
0.1 mg/L (MAC)
2017[22]
Quebec Drinking Water Standards MAC: 80 µg/L 2014[23]
BC’s Contaminated Sites Regulation, BC Reg 375/96

Sets soil standards for the protection of human health:
Agricultural and low density residential sites: 400 μg/g
Urban park and high density residential sites: 850 μg/g
Commercial sites: 2,500 μg/g
Industrial sites: 70,000 μg/g

Drinking water: 10 μg/L*

2017[24]
Cosmetic Hotlist Not permitted 2014[25]
MAC = maximum acceptable concentration
µg/m3 = micrograms per cubic metre
*Standard is specific for total trihalomethanes. Sum of the concentrations of bromodichloromethane (BDCM), dibromochloromethane (DBCM), bromoform (tribromomethane), and chloroform (trichloromethane) must not exceed the standard specified.

Chloroform was not included in other Canadian government environmental guidelines reviewed.[25,26,27,28,29,30]

Canadian Agencies/Organizations

Agency Designation/Position Year
Health Canada DSL – low priority substance (already risk managed) 2006[31]
CEPA Priority Substance List* 2011[32]
National Classification System for Contaminated Sites Rank = “High hazard”, potential human carcinogen 2008[33]
Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem Listed as a “Hazardous Polluting Substance 1987[34]
Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory Reportable to NPRI if manufactured, processed, or 
otherwise used at quantities greater than 10 tonnes
2016[35]
DSL = domestic substance list
CEPA = Canadian Environmental Protection Act
*A 2001 assessment of chloroform concluded that the criteria for inclusion as ‘toxic’ under paragraph 64(b) of CEPA 1999 was not met and further measures would not be pursued.[32]

Chloroform was not included in other Canadian government chemical listings reviewed.[36,37]

Main Uses

Prior to World War II, chloroform was used as an anaesthetic and in pharmaceuticals.[4] Other historical uses include producing resins, fats, greases, gums, waxes, and oils, and acting as a chemical intermediate to produce dyes and pesticides.[32]

In more recent years, chloroform has predominantly been used to synthesize other chemicals, such as the refrigerant hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22).[4] It is also used to extract and purify some antibiotics, alkaloids, vitamins, and flavours, and as a solvent for lacquers, floor polishes, and adhesives.[1] Chloroform may be used as a fumigant for stored grain crops,[1] but it is not registered for this use in Canada.[38]

Canadian Production and Trade

In 2015, Canada imported chloroform from the United States (87% of total imports), Russian Federation (10% of total imports) and Germany (2% of total imports). All Canadian chloroform exports in 2015 were sent to Hong Kong, China.[22]

Production and Trade

Activity Quantity Year
Export 8 t of ‘chloroform (trichloromethane)’ 2015[39]
Import 49 t of ‘chloroform (trichloromethane)’ 2015[39]
t = tonne

Environmental Exposures Overview

The primary source of environmental exposure to chloroform is ingestion via chlorinated drinking water.[1] Chloroform is produced during drinking water treatment through the reaction between chlorine and decomposing organic material.[38] Typical concentrations of chloroform in Canadian chlorinated water range from 10 to 90 µg/litre (or parts per billion, ppb).[32,40] Chlorinated water can also release aerated chloroform (e.g. during showering), creating an inhalation risk.[1,41] Dermal absorption of chloroform from water can also occur.[1,41] Once present, chloroform may persist in groundwater for many years,[4] but it does not bioaccumulate in aquatic animals.[40] CAREX Canada’s environmental estimates indicate that chloroform levels in Canadian drinking water and indoor air result in higher risks of cancer (moderate data quality). Estimates for outdoor air show that chloroform levels likely do not result in lifetime excess cancer risks higher than 10 cases per million people (high data quality).

Most chloroform in the environment is released by industrial sources, including pulp and paper mills, municipal wastewater treatment plants, chemical manufacturing plants, and waste incinerators.[32] Although chloroform is not produced in Canada, it enters the environment through industrial releases and long range atmospheric transport from other non-Canadian cities.[32] Chloroform has been detected in Canadian air, surface water, and groundwater samples.[38] Indoor air concentrations tend to be higher than outdoor air concentrations.[42] Nationwide testing of indoor chloroform levels have not been conducted since 1996.[38] However, a study conducted in Quebec City in 2005 found that of 96 homes tested, all had detectable levels of chloroform with a mean level of 3.2 µg/m3in the winter.[43] Another study conducted in Windsor, Ontario, in 2005 monitored approximately 50 homes and found slightly lower average indoor levels of chloroform in the winter (1.1 µg/m3).[42]

In 2001, it was estimated that the average Canadian daily exposure to chloroform was between 0.6 and 10.3 µg/kg (by weight) per day; the highest exposure based on body weight was calculated for infants who were formula fed.[38]

Searches of Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) and the US Household Products Database yielded the following results on current potential for exposure to chloroform in Canada:

NPRI and US Household Products Database

NPRI 2015[44]
Search term: ‘chloroform’
Category Quantity Industry
Released into Environment 55 t Pulp & paper mills, chemical manufacturers,
and water and waste treatment
facilities (9 facilities)
Disposed of 6.1 t
Sent to off-site recycling None t
t = tonne
US Household Products 2016[45]
Search Term Quantity Product Type
‘chloroform’ 1 adhesive remover

For more information, see the environmental exposure estimate for chloroform. A profile on chlorination by-products is also available.

Occupational Exposures Overview

Inhalation and dermal exposure are the most important routes of occupational exposure to chloroform.[4]

CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 15,000 Canadians are exposed to chloroform at work. Most Canadians who are occupationally exposed to chloroform work near or in chlorinated swimming pools. The industry with the largest number of workers exposed is recreation and amusement, which includes work at chlorinated swimming pools. Other industries with high numbers of workers exposed include services to building and dwellings (which includes specialized cleaners for swimming pools), sewage and other systems, pulp and paper mills, and other schools and instruction industries.

The largest exposed groups by occupation are program leaders and instructors in recreation, sport and fitness workers, lifeguards, specialized cleaners, chemical technicians, and water and waste plant operators.

For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for chloroform.

Sources

Photo: Unplash, Hans Reniers

1. National Toxicology Program (NTP). 14th report on carcinogens for Chloroform (2016) (PDF)
2. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monograph summary, Volume 73 (1999) (PDF)
3. US National Library of Medicine. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) (Search term: ‘Chloroform’)
4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for Chloroform (1997) (PDF)
5. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). ToxFAQ Sheet: Chloroform (PDF)
6. Government of Saskatchewan. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 (2016) (PDF)
7. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Yukon’s Occupational Health Regulations, O.I.C. 1986/164 (2012) (PDF)
8. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Annotated PELs (2018)
14. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Regulation 5,12 Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (2012)
15. Government of the Northwest Territories. Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, R-039-2015 (2016) (PDF)
17. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Government of Nunavut’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Nu Reg 003-2016 (2010)
19. Government of Prince Edward Island. Occupational Health and Safety Act Regulations Chapter 0-1 (2013) (PDF)
21. Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Ontario’s Ambient Air Quality Criteria (2016)
23. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water, CQLR c Q-2, r 40 (2016)
24. Government of British Columbia. Contaminated Sites Regulation B.C. Reg. 375/96 (2017)
25. Health Canada. Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist (2014)
28. Alberta Environment and Parks. Ambient Air Quality Objectives (2017)
30. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Ontario Drinking Water Quality Standards, O Reg 169/03 (2017)
31. Health Canada. Prioritization of the DSL (2006)
33. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME). National Classification System for Contaminated Sites (2008) (PDF)
34. International Joint Commission. Revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978 (1978) (PDF)
36. Health Canada. Pesticide Product Label Search (2012) (Search term: ‘Chloroform’)
39. International Trade Centre. TradeMap (Free subscription required)
40. World Health Organization (WHO). CICAD 58: Chloroform. Geneva (2004) (PDF)
42. Khanchi A, Hebbern CA, Zhu J, Cakmak S.“Exposure to volatile organic compounds and associated health risks in Windsor, Canada.” Atmospheric Environment 2015;120:152-9.
43. Héroux MÈ, Gauvin D, Gilbert NL, Guay M, Dupuis G, Legris M, Lévesque B.“Housing characteristics and indoor concentrations of selected volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Quebec City, Canada.” Indoor and Built Environ 2008;17(2):128-37.
44. Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Pollutant Release Inventory Facility Search (Substance name: ‘Chloroform’)
45. US Household Products Database (HPD). Household Products (Search term: ‘Chloroform’)

Other Resources

  1. Health Canada. Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document: Trihalomethanes (2006) (PDF)

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