Benzene is a chemical that is made from both natural processes and human activities, but breathing it into the human body can be dangerous. Breathing benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness and unconsciousness. The long-term effects of breathing in benzene can cause effects on the bone marrow and can cause anemia and leukemia. The Environmental protection agency reports that benzene has been found in at least 1,000 of the 1,684 National Priority List sites.
So what exactly is benzene? It’s a colorless liquid with a very sweet odor that evaporates into the air very quickly and dissolves slightly in water. Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals, which are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and other synthetic fibers. It is also used to make some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Natural sources of benzene include emissions from volcanoes and forest fires.
You may be exposed to low levels of benzene if you breathe in the air around gas stations, tobacco smoke, or exhaust from cars. Vapors from products that contain benzene, such as glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents can also be a source of exposure.
How can benzene affect your health? If you breathe in high levels of benzene then the worst-case scenario can be death, but drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness can also occur.
How can you protect yourself from benzene exposure? Limit contact with gasoline and cigarette smoke. If you think that you have been affected by breathing in too much benzene, there are now tests available to show whether or not you have been exposed.
For more information on the effects of benzene, go to the website for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.