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Effects of Benzene

Did You Know?

Benzene is a known carcinogen that can wreak havoc even in low doses on the immune system of anyone who is exposed to it.

Benzene Effects

Neurological effects of inhalation exposure to Benzene include drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and unconsciousness in humans. Death may result from exposure to very high levels of benzene. Ingestion of large amounts of benzene may result in vomiting, dizziness, convulsions, and death in humans.

BENZENE SHORT TERM EFFECTS: Short-term exposure (less than one year) to high doses (700 -- 3,000 ppm) of benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion, and/or unconsciousness. In extreme cases, death may occur after oral ingestion or inhalation of very high concentrations (approximately 10,000 -- 20,000 ppm) of benzene (ATSDR, 1997).

BENZENE LONG TERM EFFECTS: Long-term exposure (one year or longer) to benzene may affect normal blood production and may result in anemia (decreased ability of blood to transport oxygen) and/or internal bleeding. There is some evidence that benzene may be harmful to reproductive organs (ATSDR, 1997).

BENZENE SKIN PROBLEMS: Prolonged or repeated contact causes redness, dryness, cracking (dermatitis) due to the defatting action of this solvent.

BENZENE IN BLOOD AND BLOOD-FORMING ORGANS: Although there are limitations to some of the numerous studies, it is conclusive that benzene causes a serious condition where the number of circulating red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes) and clotting cells (thrombocytes) is reduced (pancytopenia). At this stage, effects are thought to be readily reversible. However, continued exposure can result in aplastic anemia or leukemia. Benzene also damages the bone marrow, where new blood cells are produced, resulting in aplastic anemia, which can lead to leukemia. Typical effects of benzene on the blood system were observed in one study where 217 workers were exposed to 30 to 210 ppm for 3 months to 17 years. Two studies have shown that low level exposures (less than 1.4 ppm) for long periods of time (up to 21 years) have not resulted in any blood effects.

BENZENE - IMMUNE SYSTEM: Studies of workers have found changes in the immune system, which are at least partially related to the changes in the blood system discussed above.

BENZENE - NERVOUS SYSTEM: Two limited studies (there was exposure to other chemicals and exposure levels were not well established) suggest that benzene may cause effects on the peripheral nerves and/or spinal cord. Symptoms included an increased incidence of headaches, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping and memory loss among workers with significant exposures.

Chronic (long-term) inhalation of benzene causes disorders in the blood in humans. Benzene specifically affects bone marrow (the tissues that produce blood cells). Aplastic anemia, excessive bleeding, and damage to the immune system (by changes in blood levels of antibodies and loss of white blood cells) may develop.


Animal studies show neurologic, immunologic, and hematologic effects from inhalation and oral exposure to benzene.

Tests involving acute exposure of animals, such as the LC 50 and LD 50 tests in rats, mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs, have demonstrated benzene to have low acute toxicity from inhalation, moderate acute toxicity from ingestion, and low or moderate acute toxicity from dermal exposure.

In animals, chronic inhalation and oral exposure to benzene produces the same effects as seen in humans.

Benzene causes both structural and numerical chromosomal aberrations in humans.

Other Benzene Related Illnesses

  • Blood disorders
  • Benzene exposure can lead to a decreased size of ovaries, menstrual disorders, and impair fertility in women
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Immune system damage
  • Lung and bladder cancer


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