Sources Of Benzene Exposure

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Benzene is a liquid chemical that is colorless or light yellow and has a sweet odor. It evaporates into the air very quickly and is highly flammable, so under the right conditions, it can be explosive.

Benzene can sometimes be used as a gasoline additive to increase the octane rating, although this is becoming more and more rare. Today, it's mainly used as an intermediate to make other chemicals. It's an important step in the synthesis of nylon, and small amounts of benzene are used for making some rubbers, lubricants, pesticides, and explosives.

Pure benzene will oxidize in the body to form a very harmful substance known as benzene oxide. This chemical is highly toxic it can easily interact with DNA and cause harmful mutations. These mutations cause cells to malfunction. Red blood cells, for example, can lose some of their ability to carry oxygen, resulting in anemia. Other cells might start growing uncontrollably and form a cancerous tumor.

Despite being a known carcinogen, benzene can be found in a number of common sources. As with most toxins, there is a level of benzene that can be tolerated by the human body, but if a low level of exposure can be avoided, it should be. In addition to any carcinogenic effects, people who are exposed to high levels of benzene gas may experience common symptoms of many aromatic inhalants, such as drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and even death, if the chemical is present at very high levels. Eating or drinking anything that has been contaminated with high levels of benzene usually causes people to experience more severe symptoms, including vomiting and convulsions. These signs may appear within minutes or may take up to several hours to be noticeable.


Outdoor air - Low levels of benzene can be in the atmosphere because it's commonly found in gasoline. The area around gas stations and motor vehicle exhaust will therefore probably have slightly higher levels of benzene. Factories sometimes emit the chemical, and the air around hazardous waste sites tend to contain higher levels of benzene than in other areas.

Indoor air - Levels of benzene indoors is usually slightly higher than outdoor levels. That's because everyday household items such as paints, detergents, furniture wax, and glues have benzene in them.

Smoking - A major source of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke. A smoker puts himself at risk of the carcinogenic effects of benzene. Additionally, anyone in the vicinity of the smoker can be at risk through second-hand smoke.

Water - Occasionally, benzene from underground storage tanks or hazardous waste sites can contaminate drinking water sources. This is very rare, but has very serious health effects on the people who drink the water.

Benzene workers - People who work in factories that produce or use benzene are generally exposed to the highest levels of the chemical. Proper protection should always be worn, and safety protocols should be outlined, reviewed, and practiced regularly.

Long term exposure to benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow. This can result in anemia and possibly even leukemia. Additionally, low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage have been shown in studies that observed the health of newborn animals. These birth effects are suspected, but unconfirmed, in humans as well. It's therefore very important to protect yourself as much as possible from benzene exposure.