Carbon tetrachloride is a volatile organic compound that’s produced as a result of industrial processes. This man-made chemical has several uses, including degreasing metals and breaking down fats and oils.
When consumed in drinking water, carbon tetrachloride has several known health effects. Here, we’ve outlined what you should know about this chemical in your water, including what it is, how it gets there, and its potential health risks.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Carbon tetrachloride is a man-made chemical in the group of volatile organic compounds that has a number of manufacturing and industrial purposes.
- The most common ways that carbon tetrachloride enters water supplies are through runoff and emissions from industrial waste sites and dumping and poor waste disposal.
- Carbon tetrachloride is a colorless liquid with a sweet smell when present in water at low levels.
Table of Contents
- ❔ What Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Water?
- 🚰 How Does Carbon Tetrachloride Get Into Water?
- 🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Carbon Tetrachloride
- 🚱 Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Drinking Water Dangerous?
- 📉 Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Tap Water Regulated?
- 🧪 How To Test For Carbon Tetrachloride In Tap Water
- 👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Carbon Tetrachloride In Your Water
- ⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Carbon Tetrachloride
- 📑 Final Word: Removing Carbon Tetrachloride From Water
❔ What Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Water?
Carbon tetrachloride is a man-made liquid that’s relatively insoluble in water and has a half-life of 6-12 months. It’s also known as tetrachloromethane, and carbon tet for short, and has the formula CCl₄.
This chemical is manufactured, meaning it isn’t present naturally in the environment. However, our widespread use of carbon tetrachloride means it’s now commonly found in the environment, and has been detected in 430 of the most hazardous waste sites in the nation, according to a CDC report.
There are a few different uses of carbon tetrachloride in manufacturing:
- Organic solvent in rubber manufacturing and the paint industry
- Degreasing metals
- Dry cleaning agent
- Solvent in the drug and chemical industries
- Nonoxidizing fire extinguisher agent
- Grain fumigant
Carbon tetrachloride also has some non-commercial uses – it’s used even today in the veterinary treatment of hookworm and other intestinal parasitic diseases in dogs.
Recent studies have highlighted the possible human health effects of carbon tetrachloride, which has led to the decision by the federal government to ban or limit the use of this compound in fire extinguishers and common household products. The chemical was also historically used as a pesticide, but this use has since been discontinued.
There are a few trade names that carbon tetrachloride is called by, including Benzinoform, Facsiolin, Univerm, R10, Tetraform, and Tetrasol.
🚰 How Does Carbon Tetrachloride Get Into Water?
Carbon tetrachloride gets into water through runoff from landfills and wastewater from industrial activities.
Chemical leaks and spills may also result in large quantities of carbon tetrachloride entering the environment and making its way into natural water sources.
The good news is that carbon tetrachloride is volatile and readily evaporates from water. Even if carbon tetrachloride contaminates a surface water source, it should evaporate within few days or weeks, so it’s unlikely to be present in very large quantities in your drinking water supply.
However, that does mean that if you live in an area where carbon tetrachloride pollution is common, you’re probably inhaling this contaminant in the air if you’re not ingesting it in your water. We’ve covered the other ways you may be exposed to carbon tetrachloride later in this guide.
Carbon tetrachloride in groundwater is a more serious problem because there’s nowhere for the chemical to evaporate, so it may linger in the water for months before being broken down into other chemicals.
🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Carbon Tetrachloride
Carbon tet has a mildly sweet taste when present in low levels in water. However, we don’t recommend relying on taste alone to determine whether or not your water is contaminated with this chemical.
Here are some of the other ways you can determine whether or not your water contains carbon tetrachloride.
Test Your Water
Carbon tetrachloride poses the biggest danger when it’s found in groundwater supplies, since it can’t evaporate easily as it can from a surface water supply.
So, if you’re on a private well system and you get your water from an underground aquifer, and you have any reason to be concerned about carbon tetrachloride in your local area, we recommend testing your water for this contaminant.
We’ve shared more on how to test your water for carbon tetrachloride later in this guide.
Check Your Water Quality Report
As we mentioned above, drinking contaminated groundwater is much more likely in the case of carbon tetrachloride – and while most drinking water supplies are sourced from surface waters, some are obtained from groundwater sources.
If you’re supplied with city water and you’re concerned about carbon tetrachloride, check your Water Quality Report (or Consumer Confidence Report) to find out how much of this chemical has been detected in your water supply.
Your water utility should provide a list of all the contaminants present in your source water, including the contaminant ranges and averages, based on their routine testing.
🚱 Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Drinking Water Dangerous?
Carbon tetrachloride is considered a dangerous contaminant that has several known human health effects. Around 85–91% of tetrachloride enters the body when you drink water that’s contaminated with this chemical.
Most of the studies focus on the effects of carbon tetrachloride when inhaled, but the EPA lists several possible health risks associated with exposure to carbon tetrachloride through oral ingestion.
If you ingest water containing carbon tetrachloride, you might experience the following symptoms:
Long-term exposure to carbon tetrachloride might have the following health effects:
- Liver damage
- Kidney problems
- Increased cancer risk
- Nervous system depression
Carbon tet may also have reproductive effects; however, more studies are needed to confirm this.
📉 Is Carbon Tetrachloride In Tap Water Regulated?
Carbon tetrachloride in drinking water is currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which produces legal limits for contaminants with health effects that all public drinking water utilities must adhere to.
Under the EPA’s Primary Drinking Water Standards, water utilities must reduce their carbon tetrachloride levels down to 0.005 mg/L: the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL).
The EPA has also established a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 0 for carbon tetrachloride. That’s the maximum concentration deemed safe for human ingestion in drinking water. The reason why the MCL also isn’t 0 is because the EPA has to consider what a water utility can reasonably achieve when reducing carbon tet in a public water supply.
Some organizations believe that the EPA’s guidelines for carbon tetrachloride should be restricted. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has established a non-enforceable Health Guideline of 0.1 PPB for this contaminant.
🧪 How To Test For Carbon Tetrachloride In Tap Water
You should be able to test for carbon tetrachloride with a laboratory water test – either a general VOCs test that tests for carbon tet amongst other chemicals, or a specific test that solely detects this compound.
To test your water with a carbon tet laboratory test, follow these steps:
- Order your preferred test online and wait for it to be delivered to your home.
- Take one or several samples of tap water and send it back to the laboratory for analysis.
- Wait for your test results to be delivered (usually via email), within 7-10 days.
We recommend testing your water for carbon tet if you live in a region of known contamination, especially if you use an unregulated water supply (like a private well).
👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Carbon Tetrachloride In Your Water
If you’re concerned that you might be drinking carbon tetrachloride in your water, here are some solutions:
- First, find out whether or not carbon tet is a common contaminant in your state. You can view this EWG carbon tetrachloride database to see which states have reported carbon tet in their drinking water.
- If you’re on a municipal drinking water supply, your supplier should be reducing carbon tet levels to within the EPA legal limit. Consider using a water treatment system, like a reverse osmosis system, if you still don’t want to drink trace amounts of this chemical in your water.
- If you have a private well and carbon tet is detected in your water, we recommend installing a water filtration system to reduce this contaminant as much as possible.
- Contact your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to carbon tet, especially if you’ve noticed any symptoms.
⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Carbon Tetrachloride
Aside from ingesting carbon tetrachloride in your drinking water, you might also be exposed to this contaminant from the following sources:
- Inhalation of airborne carbon tet – If you live in a region that manufactures carbon tet or uses for production processes, you might inhale this chemical in outdoor air. You might also inhale carbon tet as it evaporates from shower water and cooking water.
- Certain occupations – People working in industrial facilities that use or produce carbon tet, and and hazardous waste sites that contain this chemical, are at a higher risk of carbon tet exposure.
- Household cleaning products – Certain household cleaners, especially those containing bleach, can produce carbon tet and other VOCs, contributing to indoor airborne contamination.
- Other sources – Some commercial paints, adhesives, and degreasers contain carbon tetrachloride, although this chemical is now banned in similar products designed for household use.
📑 Final Word: Removing Carbon Tetrachloride From Water
Carbon tetrachloride poses a significant public health risk, so removing it from your water is the smart choice.
There are a few different water treatment methods that can be used to reduce or remove carbon tet, including:
- Reverse osmosis
- Granular activated carbon
- Packed tower aeration
We recommend installing a water filtration system that’s designed for point of entry installation and will remove carbon tet from your water supply before it travels around your home. This will prevent the chemical from evaporating from your fixtures and faucets and polluting your indoor air.