Benzene is a naturally occurring substance produced by volcanoes and forest fires and present in many plants and animals. Benzene is also a major industrial chemical made from coal and oil. As a pure chemical, benzene is a clear, colorless liquid. In industry, benzene is used to make other chemicals, as well as some types of plastics, detergents, and pesticides. It is also a component of gasoline.
The three main types of exposure to benzene are environmental, consumer product
, and occupational
. Without question, the greatest possibility for high-level exposures is in the workplace. However, most people are exposed to benzene in tobacco smoke
and automobile exhaust.
Benzene has been found in at least 337 hazardous waste sites. Other environmental sources of benzene include gas stations, vehicle exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke, underground storage tanks that leak, wastewater from industries that use benzene, chemical spills, groundwater next to landfills containing benzene, and possibly some food products
that contain benzene naturally. In addition, certain industries may release benzene into the surrounding air. These include ethylbenzene- and styrene-production facilities, petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, and recovery plants for coke oven by-products. People living near such industries may be exposed to benzene in the surrounding air.
Consumer products containing benzene include glues, adhesives, household cleaning products
, paint strippers, some art supplies, tobacco smoke, and gasoline.
Occupational exposure to benzene can occur in the rubber industry; oil refineries; chemical plants; the shoe manufacturing industry; and gasoline storage, shipment, and retail stations.
Brief Exposure at High Levels
Death may occur in humans and animals after brief oral or inhalation exposures to high levels of benzene; however, the main effects of these types of exposures are drowsiness
, and headaches
. These symptoms disappear after exposure stops.
Long-Term Exposures at Various Levels
From overwhelming human evidence and supporting animal studies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined that benzene is carcinogenic. Leukemia
(cancer of the tissues that form the white blood cells) and subsequent death from cancer
have occurred in some workers exposed to benzene for periods of less than 5 and up to 30 years. Long-term exposures to benzene may affect normal blood
production, possibly resulting in severe anemia
and internal bleeding
In addition, human and animal studies indicate that benzene is harmful to the immune system
, increasing the chance for infections
and perhaps lowering the body's defense against tumors. Exposure to benzene has also been linked with genetic changes in humans and animals.
Animal studies indicate that benzene has adverse effects on unborn animals. These effects include low birth weight, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage. Some of these effects occur at benzene levels as low as 10 parts of benzene per million parts of air (ppm). Although benzene has been reported to have harmful effects on animal reproduction, the evidence for human reproductive effects
, such as spontaneous abortion or miscarriage
, is too limited to form a clear link with benzene.
See your doctor if you have experienced serious health problems because of benzene exposure. In addition, it may be important to contact an attorney
who can help you protect your legal rights. Please keep in mind that there may be time limits
within which you must commence suit.
- Toxic & Hazardous Substances
- Balance Problems: Overview
- Birth Defects
- Fatigue: Overview
- Immune Disorders
- Leukemia: Overview
- Miscarriage: Overview
- Benzene: Frequently Asked Questions