Biological impact of exposure to Benzene

Benzene is a highly flammable liquid which occurs naturally in crude oil, natural gas and in some ground waters. It is also manufactured from crude oil and is present in crude oil vapours. Small amounts are also produced when organic substances burn incompletely, for example, it is found in vehicle exhausts and cigarette smoke.

Work with benzene is subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 1999. It is classified as a carcinogen and has been assigned a ‘skin notation’, indicating the possibility of significant skin absorption. Benzene can cause serious health problems. Immediate effects of high inhalation exposure can include headache, tiredness, nausea and dizziness. Unconsciousness may occur if exposure is very high. Long term exposure to benzene can result in serious blood disorders such as anaemia and leukaemia.

There is the potential for exposure to benzene at work from the following industries:

  • Oil refineries
  • Chemical and petrochemical plants and offshore installations
  • Coke works
  • Storage, distribution and use of petrol or benzene
  • Traffic policeman
  • Parking attendants

Benzene can be absorbed into the body:

  • Inhalation: breathing air containing benzene vapour
  • Ingestion: swallowing material containing benzene
  • Absorption: direct skin contact with benzene or solvents containing benzene

The exposure limits for benzene levels in urine are expressed relative to the creatinine level, they are as follows:

  • US : 25ug SPMA/g creatinine (or 12umol/mol)
  • Germany : 45 ug SPMA/g creatinine

For more information about SAL’s Benzene services, please contact your local laboratory or contact us online.