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Carbon Black

Learn what you need to know about carbon black.

Also known as: Lamp black, Furnace black, Thermal black, Channel black

What is carbon black?

Carbon black is a lot like graphite and is the general term used to describe a powdery commercial form of carbon.

Where is carbon black found?

Carbon black can form as an air-polluting particle when fuels (like gasoline, diesel fuel, and coal) are not completely burned. These carbon black particles are often coated with other chemicals making them more hazardous than commercially produced pure carbon black. The particle coatings may include "polyaromatic hydrocarbons," also called PAHs.

In the tire industry, carbon black is used to strengthen and color rubber. It is also used to color inks and leather, and to insulate electrical equipment.

Carbon black exposure

Most exposure to carbon black occurs when people breathe contaminated air. This type of exposure usually occurs in the workplace. However, outdoor air can sometimes contain traces due to its release by industries.

Carbon black does not dissolve in water, so people are not likely to drink it in contaminated water.

Carbon black particles are heavy and drop quickly out of the air. The dust is a nuisance because it is black and sticky. It's difficult to wipe off skin or other objects. Touching carbon black is not likely to cause serious health effects.

What regulations and guidelines are available to protect people from carbon black?

No standards exist for the amount of carbon black allowed in the air of homes. We use a formula to convert established workplace limits to suggested home limits. Based on the formula, we recommend levels of carbon black in air be no higher than 0.07 milligrams per cubic meter of air.

Health effects

Everyone's reaction is different

A person's reaction to chemicals depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking. It’s also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical, the amount of chemical exposure, and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.

The most likely effect of exposure to carbon black is lung disease.

Inhaling carbon black particles can irritate the lungs and cause coughing. Carbon black can also irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. When people are exposed to high levels of carbon black over many years, the particles may lodge deep in their lungs. If it stays in the lungs, the condition may lead to bronchitis and eventually to a chronic condition called "obstructive pulmonary disease."

Animal studies suggest long-term exposure to very high doses of pure carbon black may increase a person's risk of cancer. Carbon black that comes from incomplete burning of hydrocarbons is more likely to contain cancer causing chemicals than pure carbon black.

There are no medical tests that will confirm occasional, short-term exposures to carbon black. People with long-term exposure may be given a chest x-ray. When read by a specialist, the x-ray can determine if lung damage has occurred.

Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical exposure.

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Last revised March 29, 2023