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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Benzene

What is it?

Benzene is a colorless liquid that is formed from both natural processes and human activities. It is produced naturally by volcanoes and forest fires. It is also in crude oil, gasoline, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust.

Benzene is used to make adhesives, paint, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. It is used to make plastics and other chemicals.

See also: Trash Vehicles and Engines Factories Gas Station Homes Brownfield Air Pollution Cancer

Where is Benzene found?

  • Consumer products – in gasoline, rubber, furniture wax, adhesives, paints, detergents, and pesticides
  • Air – in tobacco smoke, vehicle fueling and engine exhaust, and fumes from some consumer products
  • Drinking water - can contaminate well water and underground sources of water

How can I be exposed to Benzene?

Benzene commonly enter(s) the body through:

Eating
Ingestion (swallowing)
  • Drinking contaminated water or eating food that has been exposed to contaminated water
Inhalation
Inhalation (breathing)
  • Smoking cigarettes, or breathing secondhand cigarette smoke, vehicle exhaust, gasoline, or fumes from some consumer products

What happens when I am exposed to Benzene?

Short-term:

Exposure to small amounts of benzene can cause:

  • Stomach irritation
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Tremors

Exposure to breathing high to very high levels of benzene can cause:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death (at very high levels)

Exposure to eating or drinking high levels of benzene can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Stomach irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Convulsions
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Death (at very high levels)

Long-term:
The major effect of long-term exposure to benzene is on the blood:

  • Harmful effects on bone marrow
  • Decrease in red blood cells
  • Anemia
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Harmful effect on the immune system, increasing the chance for infection
  • Leukemia

Who is at risk for exposure to Benzene?

  • Consumers
    • Many consumer and household products contain benzene.
    • Consumers who pump their own gas.
  • Tobacco smokers
    • Tobacco and secondhand tobacco smoke contain benzene.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to benzene, contact your health care professional.

For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

  • Do you, or does anyone in your household, smoke cigarettes?
  • How frequently are you exposed to vehicle exhaust or gasoline?
  • Do you use glue, paint, furniture wax, or detergents?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Pump gas carefully to avoid breathing the fumes.
  • Avoid skin contact with gasoline.
  • Limit your time near idling cars, trucks, or buses.
  • Use proper ventilation when using products containing benzene.
  • Read product labels for usage instructions. For example, you might be instructed to open windows and doors or use a fan.
  • Routinely test well water for benzene levels. If your well water has high levels of benzene, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Don’t let children play near gas stations or idling cars.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
Additional Resources
  • Benzene. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)

    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about benzene exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.

  • What Is Benzene? (Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center)

    Resource on benzene that includes information on its sources, uses, and associated short- and long-term health effects due to exposure.

  • Basic Information about Benzene in Drinking Water (Environmental Protection Agency)

    Factsheet with answers to frequently asked questions about benzene, including its health effects, regulations for its presence in drinking water, as well as information on how it gets into and is removed from drinking water.

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