12_facts_about_benzene

12 Facts about Benzene

See 12 facts about Benzene below.

  1. Benzene is a chemical that is a colourless or light yellow liquid at room temperature.
  2. Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapour is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
  3. Benzene is the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon and distinguished as the first aromatic hydrocarbons with the nature of its bonding first established in the 19th century.
  4. Benzene is widely used in the United States. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.
  5. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
  6. It occurs naturally in crude oil, natural gas and some ground waters.
  7. It belongs to the BTEX family (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Xylene) of so called aromatics because of their sweet, pleasant smell.
  8. It is found in ambient air as a result of burning fuels, such as coal, petrol and wood and is common in unleaded fuel, where it is added as a substitute for lead, allowing smoother running.
  9. Workers might be exposed to benzene during certain jobs, for example, in:-
    Oil refineries
    Chemical and petrochemical plants
    Coke works
    Foundries
    The storage, distribution and use of petrol or benzene itself
  10. Most benzene exposure comes from the air from a number of sources, including forest fires, auto exhaust and gasoline from fueling stations. Benzene in cigarette smoke is a major source of exposure.
  11. From a long term (chronic) health perspective, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify benzene as a group one carcinogen.
  12.  Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of benzene causes leukaemia and impacts red and white blood cells.

Benzene exposure

Benzene evaporates easily and most people can detect its distinctive smell at concentrations between 2.5 and 5 parts per million (ppm) in air.

As well as inhalation, benzene can be absorbed into the body through the skin or by swallowing material containing it. The effects on worker’s health depends upon how much benzene they are exposed to and for how long. The immediate effects of a single exposure to a high concentration (hundreds of ppm) include headache, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, and even unconsciousness, if the exposure is very high (thousands of ppm) meaning an acute safety incident.

From a long term (chronic) health perspective, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify benzene as a group one carcinogen. Prolonged exposure to high or low benzene causes leukaemia and impacts red and white blood cells. The WHO has not set a standard for ambient benzene concentrations, stating that there is no safe level of exposure but many countries use an annual average standard of 3.6g m-3 which is equivalent to 1 part per billion (ppb) or 0.001 ppm.

Download our Guide: The Basics of Benzene

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