Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by the burning of natural products. It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels. Benzene is used as a constituent in motor fuels; as a solvent for fats, waxes, resins, oils, inks, paints, plastics, and rubber; in the extraction of oils from seeds and nuts; and in photogravure printing. It is also used as a chemical intermediate in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyestuffs. Research has shown benzene to be a carcinogen (cancer causing). With exposures from less than 5 years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death. Trade names include: Benzol 90, Pyrobenzol, Polystream, Coal naphtha, and Phene.
Benzene is easily absorbed into the bloodstream when a person breaths-in vapors or mists. The current OSHA permissible exposure level is 1 part per million (ppm) in air for an 8 hour average with a short-term exposure limit of 5 ppm. Benzene can also be absorbed through your skin and into your bloodstream. OSHA has estimated that more than 32 million workers are exposed to 650,000 hazardous chemical products in more than 3 million American workplaces. Individuals employed in industries that manufacture or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels of benzene. In addition, the general public can be exposed to elevated levels of Benzene in contaminated drinking water and in the air due to emissions from burning coal and oil, motor vehicle exhaust, and evaporation from gasoline service stations and in industrial solvents. Measurement of benzene in an individual’s breath or blood or the measurement of breakdown products in the urine (phenol) can estimate personal exposure. However, the tests must be done shortly after exposure and are not helpful for measuring low levels of benzene.
Benzene is classified as a “known” human carcinogen (Category A) under the EPA Risk Assessment Guidelines of 1986. A number of studies and reviews have linked Benzene exposure to certain forms of leukemia. Leukemia is a malignant disease that affects the blood and bone marrow.
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