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Benzene

Benzene and Cancer

Benzene is a clear, non-corrosive and highly flammable liquid used primarily to make other chemicals and plastics. The hazardous chemical was classified as a carcinogen (known cancer-causing substance) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1980.

Benzene is widely used in the United States and it ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume. Unfortunately, workers that are exposed to benzene are at an increased risk of developing life-threatening blood disorders and cancers.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF BENZENE EXPOSURE?

Benzene exposure can occur through inhalation or skin absorption. Short-term, high-level exposure can cause eye and skin irritation, drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness, and death. Long-term exposure can increase the risk of blood diseases and cancers, especially acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).

WHO IS MOST AT RISK OF BENZENE EXPOSURE?

According to the American Cancer Society, people are most commonly exposed to benzene in higher quantities while at work. Workers are at an increased risk of benzene exposure in certain industries, including:

  • Rubber industry workers
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Chemical plant workers
  • Shoe manufacturers
  • Workers in gasoline-related industries
  • Laboratory technicians
  • Steel workers
  • Firefighters
COMMON SOURCES OF BENZENE

Benzene is found in a slew of products, including:

  • Plastics
  • Resins
  • Synthetic fibers
  • Lubricants
  • Dyes
  • Detergents
  • Pesticides
  • Crude oil
  • Gasoline

However, the highest levels of benzene exposure have typically occurred at workplaces in the industries listed above. In addition, cigarette smoking is a large producer of benzene. According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke accounts for approximately half of the benzene exposure in the United States. Benzene exposure can also be higher in areas with heavy traffic, gas stations, and industrial sources.

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