Benzene – What Is It?
The Department of Health & Human Services has labeled benzene as a known human carcinogen – a chemical or physical agent that causes cancer. Benzene is a highly flammable, colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It is evaporates very quickly into air and is slightly soluble in water. Furthermore, Benzene is found in by-products of combustion such as, volcanoes, forest fires, vehicle emissions and cigarette smoke. As a natural component of crude oil, Benzene is primarily manufactured from coal and petroleum.
Benzene is the 17th most abundantly produced chemical in the US. Benzene is used as a raw material in the production of many materials and products including styrene, some rubbers, lubricants, dyes, drugs, synthetic detergents, explosives, insecticides, fumigants, solvents, paint removers, and gasoline. Because Benzene is also a by-product of the coking process during steel production.
Benzene Occupational Risks and Health Hazards
Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia.
–National Cancer Institute
Benzene poses the greatest risk to workers who use petroleum or solvents which contain benzene. Although using benzene in the U.S. as a solvent has been banned for many years now, benzene is still present in petroleum solvents to some degree. Workers are usually exposed to benzene by inhaling the vapors or absorbing the chemical through skin contact. In December researchers reported in the journal Science that workers in a Chinese shoe factory exposed to less than one part per million of benzene experienced a significant decline of white cells and found their blood-forming cells were less vigorous than normal. – AP, Dec 04
The consequences of benzene exposure, regardless of the form, can be deadly. Benzene has been shown to cause rare forms of leukemia, including acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), acute lymphohcytic leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and chronic myelogenous leukemia as well as other severe illnesses, such as Hodgkin’s Disease, myelodysplastic syndrome and lymphoma.
Workplaces at Risk for Benzene Exposure
- Gasoline Distribution
- Decreasing Ops
- Rubber Processing
- Chemical Laboratory
- Adhesive Production
- Waste Management
- Petroleum/Oil Refinery
- Solvent Production
- Printing/Press Ops
- Barge/Tank Ops
- Detergent Production
- Shoe/Leather Production
- Chemical/Petrochemical Plant
- Pesticides Manufacturing
- Pharmaceuticals Manufacturing
- Paper and Pulp Manufacturing
- Paint and Varnish Production
- Wood Stain Manufacturing
Symptoms of Benzene Exposure
Acute Exposure Symptoms
- Acute benzene toxicity is characterized by CNS depression.
- Symptoms may progress from light-headedness, headache, and euphoria to respiratory depression, apnea, coma, and death.
- Benzene concentrations of about 20,000 ppm are fatal to humans within 5 to 10 minutes.
- Ventricular fibrillation (heart attack) can occur due to myocardial sensitization.
Chronic Exposure Symptoms
- In addition symptoms of chronic benzene exposure may be nonspecific, such as fever, bleeding, fatigue, and anorexia.