Short-term exposures to very high levels of vinyl chloride in air can cause dizziness, stumbling and lack of muscle coordination, headache, unconsciousness, and even death. Long-term exposure to lower but unmeasured amounts in factories where vinyl chloride is made or processed has caused "vinyl chloride disease." This disease is characterized by severe damage to the liver, effects on the lungs, poor circulation in the fingers, changes in the bones at the end of the fingers, thickening of the skin, and changes in the blood.
Vinyl chloride enters the body through food or water containing it. Passage of vinyl chloride through the skin is not likely to be an important pathway. There are no satisfactory tests to determine vinyl chloride exposure. Studies designed to determine if the low levels of vinyl chloride measured in outside air, drinking water, or food could cause harmful effects in humans have not been performed. However, vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen.
Inhalation of vinyl chloride is of concern for workers in vinyl chloride manufacturing or processing, for people living in communities where vinyl chloride plants are located, and for individuals living near hazardous waste disposal sites.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the amount of vinyl chloride allowed in packaging materials, notably plastics, that contact food in order to limit the intake of vinyl chloride. The US In 1989, the US EPA set limits on vinyl chloride in the drinking water. In order to control the handling of vinyl chloride, EPA has named the chemical as a hazardous component of solid waste.