What is Benzene and Where is it Found?
Benzene is a chemical compound that is made from petroleum and coal. It was first discovered by Michael Faraday in 1825 when he passed hydrogen gas over heated mercury.
In its natural state, benzene does not usually cause contamination problems because it evaporates readily at room temperature.
But this is not the case for industrial production of benzene through human activity or the combination with other chemicals.
These man-made products can leave behind small quantities of the dangerous hydrocarbon which eventually make their way into drinking water supplies like wells and streams, or have toxic gasses trapped inside underground deposits.
The most common uses for Benzene include:- as an additive in gasoline- as a solvent, used in paint strippers to clean oil based paints, as a raw material in the manufacture of plastics, pharmaceuticals, and resins.
Have you even been at the gas pump and happen to smell that sweet smell? That’s the benzene additive used in gasoline.
Dangers Associated with Benzene Exposures
Benzene is considered both a cancer-causing agent and a reproductive toxin.
Exposure to benzene may result in:
- Blood disorders (anemia)
- Effects on bone marrow (decreased production or increased destruction of red blood cells),
- Damage to the immune system,
- Development of potentially fatal leukemia
- Chromosomal aberrations
- Bone marrow suppression
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), there are no safe levels of exposure to benzene. In fact, as little as one part per million can cause adverse health problems!
Best Practices to Reduce Exposure to Benzene
Here are some recommendations by NIOSH to limit and/or prevent exposure:
- Only attempt to clean or work with benzene if you have been properly trained and understand the hazards and safety precautions when working with this chemical.
- Ensure your employer has provided you with HAZCOM training.
- Always have safety data sheet (SDS) on hand in the event an accident could occur
- Increase ventilation (a general rule of thumb is 10 air exchanges per hour) when working with benzene,
- Wear protective clothing including gloves, safety glasses, and respirators.
- Use the proper solvent when cleaning up benzene spills. Evacuate the site as soon as possible. Wet down the contaminated area after solvents have been applied.
- If you’re planning on using products containing benzene (like paint, glues, cleaning materials), make sure that such products are used in a well-ventilated area or outdoors.
- Leave windows open whenever possible! Avoiding direct contact with these substances is essential for preventing health ailments.
As you can see, the dangers of benzene are quite clear, especially if you work with petroleum products.
Protecting yourself and others in your home or place of employment is vital to avoiding long-term health complications that stem from exposure to this dangerous chemical compound.