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What is Benzene?

Benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid chemical at room temperature. It has a sweet smell, is highly flammable and evaporates very quickly into the air. However, since its vapor is heavier than air, it goes down to low areas. Benzene is slightly soluble in water and floats on water.

Where Benzene is Found and Usage

Benzene is both naturally occurring and created by humans. Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. It is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. It is widely used and ranks among the top 20 chemicals in terms of production volume. Some industries use it as an additive used to make plastic, resin, nylon, and synthetic fibers. It is also used to make some lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, medicines and pesticides.

Benzene Exposure

There are areas of exposure to benzene and these are:

• Outdoor also contains low levels of benzene from the air, tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions.

• Indoor air usually contains higher levels of benzene than outdoor air. Because there are products that contain benzene, such as benzene, adhesives, paints, furniture polish and detergents in indoor air.

• The air around hazardous landfills or petrol stations may contain higher levels of benzene than other areas.

• Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks or hazardous waste areas containing benzene can contaminate well water.

• Workers in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels.

• The major source of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke.

How Does Benzene Work?

Benzene causes cells not to function properly, for example, it can cause the bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. It can also damage the immune system by altering antibody levels in the blood and causing the loss of white blood cells. The severity of benzene poisoning depends on the amount, route and duration of exposure, as well as the age and pre-existing medical condition of the person exposed.

Signs and Symptoms of Benzene Exposure

People exposed to benzene show signs and symptoms. People who inhale high levels of benzene may develop some signs and symptoms within minutes to a few hours. These signs and symptoms are as follows:

• Drowsiness

• Dizziness

Fast or irregular heartbeat

• Headache

• Trembling

• Confusion, confusion

• Loss of consciousness

• Death (at very high levels)

Consuming foods or drinks that contain high levels of benzene can cause some symptoms within minutes to a few hours. These symptoms are as follows:

  • Vomiting
  • Stomach irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Sleeping state
  • Convulsions
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Death (at very high levels)

However, if a person vomits from swallowing foods or drinks containing benzene, the vomiting can travel to the lungs, causing breathing problems and coughing. In addition, direct exposure of the eyes, skin, or lungs to benzene can cause tissue damage and irritation. Having these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean the person has been exposed to benzene.

Long-Term Health Effects of Benzene Exposure

Benzene prolonged exposure is the main effect on the blood, and prolonged exposure means exposure for a year or more. It causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and affect the immune system, increasing the likelihood of infection. Some women who inhaled high levels of benzene for months had irregular menstrual periods and a reduction in the size of their ovaries. It is not exactly known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.

Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals inhale benzene. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. However, prolonged exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, which is cancer of the blood-forming organs.

Benzene Prevention and Things to Do

First of all, when benzene is released into the air, fresh air should be taken by leaving the area. Going to an area with fresh air is the best way to reduce the chance of death. In addition, if the emission is outside, it is necessary to move away from the area, if the release is indoors, it is necessary to leave the building. Emergency coordinators often recommend that people close to benzene emissions evacuate the area or take shelter in a building to avoid exposure to the chemical.

People who think they may have been exposed to benzene should take off their clothing, wash their entire body with soap and water quickly, and seek medical attention as soon as possible. Clothing should not be pulled over the head, but instead should be cut from the body. When helping others to take off their clothes, try not to touch contaminated areas and the dress should be removed as soon as possible. When eyes affected by benzene are burned or blurred vision, eyes should be rinsed with clear water for 10 to 15 minutes. In addition, if there are contact lenses, they should be removed after washing hands and put on with contaminated clothing. Contacts should not be reattached after lenses are removed, but glasses wearers can reattach them after washing them with soap and water.

After these measures, the clothes must be thrown away. When placing clothes in a plastic bag, touching contaminated areas of the garment should be avoided. However, when it is difficult to touch the contaminated areas or the whereabouts of the contaminated areas are unknown, clothing should be put into the bag by wearing rubber gloves, tongs, tool holders, sticks or similar objects. Also, anything that touches the contaminated garment should be placed in the bag. Then the bag should be closed and then put into another plastic bag. Throwing the clothes this way helps protect them from chemicals. Finally, when the local health department or emergency personnel arrives, the actions taken should be explained. Because the health department or emergency personnel can investigate for further disposal and plastic bags should never be handled.

Considering that there may be benzene in the water supply, bottled water should be drunk until you are sure that the water supply is safe. If a person has swallowed benzene, they should not induce vomiting or give them fluids to drink. Also, someone who swallows benzene should not have a heart massage. Performing CPR can cause vomiting, and vomit can progressively damage the lungs. Benzene poisoning is treated with supportive medical care in a hospital setting. There is no specific antidote for benzene poisoning and the most important thing for victims is that they seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

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