Acetone in the Environment and
Your Drinking Water



Acetone: Health Information Summary

Acetone has a pungent to fruity odor and it tends to be clear and colorless. The "odor" threshold for acetone in air is when it is 13 to 20 ppm and water when the level is 20 ppm.  A concentrated fluid of acetone is highly volatile and flammable and acetone can be found in paints, lacquers, solvents, varnishes, cements/glues, and cleaners.  Acetone is highly water soluble and can leach readily into the groundwater. 

In addition to anthropogenic sources, i.e., man-made,  acetone is created during the natural living and growing processes of plants and animals and levels of acetone are typically higher during a low carbohydrate diet, exercising vigorously, have poorly managed diabetes, or eating a high fat diet.


Health Effects


Acetone is quickly absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure. In two experiments with humans, inhalation absorption was in the 70 to 80 percent range. There is no data for the other routes. Absorbed acetone is almost entirely eliminated from the body within a day after exposure.

Short-Term (acute) Effects

Mild nervous system effects that abated soon after exposure ceased were seen in humans exposed to concentrations of acetone of 500 ppm in air and greater. Symptoms included irritation of the eyes and respiratory system, mood swings, and nausea. Accidental poisonings report similar nervous system effects of sluggishness and drowsiness that were not long lasting.

Only one animal study could be located, which investigated the effects of acetone exposure by ingestion. Rats were given drinking water containing acetone at a concentration of 25,000 ppm for 18 weeks. The only effect observed in the rats was weight loss, which may be attributed to decreased food consumption.

Humans, who were exposed to 500 ppm of acetone by inhalation, experienced eye and nasal irritation. Levels of exposure below 500 ppm did not cause any adverse health effects. In another study, groups of students were exposed by inhalation to acetone concentrations ranging from zero to 1,000 ppm for six hours. At concentrations of 500 and 1,000 ppm, eye, nose and throat irritation were observed.

Long-Term (chronic) Effects

Workers exposed by inhalation of 1,000 ppm of acetone for three hours per day for seven to 15 years complained of respiratory tract irritation, dizziness, and loss of strength. In an drinking water exposure animal study, effects on the blood in rats indicating an anemic condition were reported at doses of 1,700 mg/kg/day.

Carcinogenic (cancer producing) Effects

The one study conducted to investigate potential carcinogenic effects from inhalation exposure to acetone by workers did not find any excess cancer incidence. There is no data regarding the carcinogenicity of acetone in any animal studies. Chemicals similar to acetone have not been found to be carcinogenic to humans. Acetone has been categorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a Group D carcinogen (inadequate evidence to classify). . Acetone has been negative in several mutagenicity assays.

Reproductive/Developmental Effects

Male rats exposed to very high concentrations of acetone in drinking water (3,400 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight/day) had increases in malformed sperm and reduced sperm movement. Whether these effects would impair reproductive ability is not known.

Health Standards and Criteria

There is currently no federal health based standard or criterion for acetone in drinking water. Mild kidney toxicity was observed at some concentrations in a rat study. Based upon this rat study, the EPA developed a non-cancer toxicity value (Reference Dose or RfD) for acetone. From the RfD, DES has derived a drinking water guideline of 6,000 ppb.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforceable standard (permissible exposure limit or PEL) for acetone in workplace air is 1,000 ppm averaged over eight hours.

Note- Health-Based Screening Level- "A benchmark concentration of contaminants in water that may be of potential concern for human health, if exceeded. For noncarcinogens, the HBSL represents the contaminant concentration in drinking water that is not expected to cause any adverse effects over a lifetime of exposure. For carcinogens, the HBSL range represents the contaminant concentration in drinking water that corresponds to an excess estimated lifetime cancer risk of 1 chance in 1 million to 1 chance in 10 thousand. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.- 6000 ppb or 6 mg/L."

Note - Current Massachusetts Regulatory Limit: ORSGL = 6.3 mg/L.

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