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What is Benzene ?

Did You Know?

Millions of workers may be exposed to Benzene in the U.S. every year, estimated at more than 3 million workers.

BENZENE (pronounced ben zeen)
Chemical Formula:   C 6 H 6
Chemical Abstract Number (CAS#):   71-43-2
Other names:   Benzol, Coal Naptha, Phenyl Hydride

Benzene is a clear, colorless, non-corrosive, highly flammable liquid with a strong odor. It is used primarily to make other chemicals and plastics. It is commonly found in solvents, degreasers, in the dye, dry cleaning and petroleum industry. It has also been an ingredient in some commercial products including dental/denture adhesives and cigarettes.

Benzene and Cigarette Smoke

Benzene is even a component of cigarette smoke. Benzene is widely used in the United States and ranks among the top 20 chemicals produced. EPA classifies benzene as "a known carcinogen" (Group A) (EPA, 1996). Benzene related diseases may develop as late as 29 years after exposure.

Benzene Caused Disease in 1897

We knew Benzene caused disease as early as 1897 when doctors linked it as a cause of aplastic anemia. Now we know it causes more than that. One hundred years later, in 1997, the report to the Canadian Occupational Board on Occupational Diseases summarized links between benzene and diseases:

Benzene and Gasoline

Gasoline distribution workers, laborers, pipe fitters and refinery workers others involved in the removal and repair of underground fuel storage tanks and refinery workers are at risk for exposure to benzene.

Benzene is absorbed predominately through inhalation of benzene vapors. Benzene can also be absorbed through skin.

Benzene in Consumer products

Some consumer household products, such as glues, cleaning products, detergents, art supplies, and paint strippers, contain benzene.

Benzene Effects

The evidence linking benzene and cancer predominantly comes from studies of workers, and relates to leukemia, particularly a type called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Leukemia is a cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow.

Benzene exposure is related to many forms of leukemia:

  • AML (acute myelogenous leukemia)
  • ALL (acute lymphatic leukemia)
  • CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia)
  • CLL (chronic lymphatic leukemia)
  • Hodgkin's Disease
  • HCL (hairy cell leukemia)
  • Aplastic anemia (a risk factor in developing acute nonlymphocytic leukemia)
  • These versions of Leukemia are not Benzene related
  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • Multiple Myeloma

Some benzene health effects, such as central nervous system toxicity, can occur immediately after or shortly after Benzene exposure. Benzene has been known to cause acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and aplastic anemia.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and IARC have determined Benzene is a known human carcinogen.

Resource Links for Benzene

Environmental Health (National Library of Medicine)

What is Benzene?   (Navy Environmental Health Center )

Glossary of Blood-Related Cancers   (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

Benzene ingestion

About Air Toxics   (Environmental Protection Agency)

Leukemia   (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society)

BENZENE REFERENCES

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological profile for benzene. U.S. Public Health Service , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta , GA. 1997.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Proposed Guidelines for carcinogen risk assessment. Federal Register 61 (79): 17960-18011. 1996.

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC monographs on the evaluation of the carcinogenic risk of chemicals to humans. Some industrial chemicals and dyestuffs. Vol. 29. Lyon , France : IARC, 1982.

National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA). Carcinogenic Effects of Benzene: An Update. Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , Washington , D.C. April 1998.

National Toxicology Program (NTP). Eighth report on carcinogens 1998 Summary. U.S. Public Health Service , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta , GA. 1998.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Occupational exposure to benzene. Final Rule. Federal Register 1987;52:34460-34578.

Rinsky RA, Smith AB , Hornung R, et al. Benzene and leukemia: an epidemiological risk assessment. New Eng J Med 1987;316:1044-50.

Yin SN, Li GL, Tain FD, et al. Leukemia in benzene workers: a retrospective cohort study. Brit J Ind Med 1987;44:124-28.

Yin SN, Li GL, Tain FD, et al. A retrospective cohort study of leukemia and other cancers in benzene workers. Environ Health Persp 1989;82:207-13.

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