Xylene

The term xylenes refers to a group of 3 benzene derivatives which encompasses ortho-, meta-, and para- isomers of dimethyl benzene. The o-, m- and p- isomers specify to which carbon atoms (of the main benzene ring) are the 2 methyl groups attached. Counting the carbon atoms from any arbitrary point, and C1 being to the right of C2, and C2 being to the right to C3, and so on, the o- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,2-dimethylbenzene. The m- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,3-dimethylbenzene. And p- isomer has the IUPAC name of 1,4-dimethylbenzene.

It is a colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that catches on fire easily. It occurs naturally in petroleum and coal tar and is formed during forest fires. You can smell xylene in air at 0.08 to 3.7 parts of xylene per million parts of air (ppm) and begin to taste it in water at 0.53 to 1.8 ppm.

Chemical industries produce xylene from petroleum. It's one of the top 30 chemicals produced in the United States in terms of volume. Xylene is used as a solvent and in the printing, rubber, and leather industries. It is also used as a cleaning agent, a thinner for paint, and in paints and varnishes. It is found in small amounts in airplane fuel and gasoline.

Structure

Background: Hydrocarbons can be divided into two main groups, aliphatics and aromatics. Aliphatics are furthur subdivided into alkanes, alkenes, alkynes and cycloaliphatics. Cycloaliphatics are further subdivided into cycloalkanes, cycloalkenes and cycloalkynes. The difference between them is that cycloalkanes have all single bonds, cycloalkenes have one or more double bonds and cycloalkynes have one or more triple bonds. When speaking of hybridization I will speak of it relative to most of the molecule, considering that most of the carbons in the cycloaliphatic molecule have single bonds to the rest of the carbons (sp3 hybridized). sp3 hybridization tends to create a 109 degree angle of separation between the carbon-carbon single bond. No single cycloaliphatic actually reaches a full 109 degree angle of separation, ( this can be proved mathematically) and most have to twist in order to avoid stress. This means that most cycloaliphatics (except cyclopropane) are twisted. In turn aromatic hydrocarbons, which are mostly cyclic, have alternating double bond-single bonds. This allows all of the carbons in the main chains to be sp2 hybridized which make an angle of 120 degrees with each other. Benzene is the only aromatic compound which has 6 carbons in the main ring. From mathematics we know that the corners of a hexagon have an angle of 120 degrees.

Theory: Xylenes, like normal benzene have a planar structure which makes them very stable. They are soluble in alcohol and ether, but insoluble in water. Xylenes are often mixed with ethylbenzene when preparing industrial and commercial solutions of the isomers. Each mix is colorless at room temperature. para-xylene forms crystals are high temperatures.

Health effects

Xylene affects the brain. High levels from exposure for short periods (14 days or less) or long periods (more than 1 year) can cause headaches, lack of muscle coordination, dizziness, confusion, and changes in ones sense of balance. Exposure of people to high levels of xylene for short periods can also cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat; difficulty in breathing; problems with the lungs; delayed reaction time; memory difficulties; stomach discomfort; and possibly changes in the liver and kidneys. It can cause unconsciousness and even death at very high levels.

Studies of unborn animals indicate that high concentrations of xylene may cause increased numbers of deaths, and delayed growth and development. In many instances, these same concentrations also cause damage to the mothers. We do not know if xylene harms the unborn child if the mother is exposed to low levels of xylene during pregnancy.


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