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Pentane

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
100 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
Disclaimer
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Under normal conditions, Pentane is a colourless liquid, which has a characteristic smell. It evaporates easily at room temperature and boils at 36 degrees celsius. Pentane is highly flammable and mixtures of the vapour with air can be explosive. Pentane does not dissolve in water, but does mix with organic (carbon-containing) solvents. Pentane is one of a group of substances known as the volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What is it used for?
Pentane is an ingredient of petrol fuel for vehicles. It is also used in the chemical industry as a solvent and in the production of other chemicals. Pentane is used to fill plastic foams, replacing the use of Hydofluorocarbons (HFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as they are phased out because of their damaging effects on the ozone layer.
Where does it come from?
Releases also occur from industry manufacturing or using it and during the disposal of products containing it. Pentane is found naturally in natural gas, but releases of this to the atmosphere are likely to be small and relatively rare.
How might it affect the environment?
Exposure to high levels of Pentane may damage the environment and harm wildlife, particularly aquatic organisms. However, typical environmental levels are not sufficiently high to cause these effects. The main concern associated with releases of Pentane is that, as a VOC, it may be involved in the formation of ground level ozone, which can damage crops and materials. It is not considered likely that Pentane pollution has any effects on the global environment.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Pentane enters the body primarily by inhalation of air containing pentane, but can also enter the body by ingestion of contaminated water, or by dermal contact with pentane. Inhalation of air containing high levels of pentane can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, drowsiness, headache, dizziness, a burning sensation in the chest, unconsciousness and in extreme cases coma and death. Ingestion of pentane can lead to irritation of the digestive tract, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Ingestion of high levels can affect the central nervous system. When swallowed, pentane can vaporise resulting in aspiration into the lungs and health effects similar to those for inhalation. Dermal contact with pentane can cause skin irritation and dermatitis. Eye contact may lead to irritation, conjunctivitis and damage to the cornea. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has not designated pentane in terms of its carcinogenicity. However, exposure to pentane at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
Releases of Pentane are controlled through the UK Pollution, Prevention and Control (PPC) Regulations. As a VOC, levels of Pentane in air are also controlled through the UK National Air Quality Strategy. It is also regulated through the European Solvents Directive (99/13/EC) and the European Directive which evaluates and controls the risks of substances known to be in the environment (793/93). The main international legislation regulating levels of VOCs such as Pentane is the UN/ECE Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes.