Benzene is commonly found in the environment. Industrial processes are the main sources of benzene in the environment. Benzene levels in the air can be elevated by emissions from burning coal and oil, benzene waste and storage operations, motor vehicle exhaust, and evaporation from gasoline service stations. Tobacco smoke is another source of benzene in air, particularly indoors. Industrial discharge, disposal of products containing benzene, and gasoline leaks from underground storage tanks release benzene into water and soil.
Benzene can pass into air from water and soil surfaces. Once in the air, benzene reacts with other chemicals and breaks down within a few days. Benzene in the air can also be deposited on the ground by rain or snow.
Benzene in water and soil breaks down more slowly. Benzene is slightly soluble in water and can pass through the soil into underground water. Benzene in the environment does not build up in plants or animals.
How are you exposed to benzene?
Everyone is exposed to a small amount of benzene every day. You are exposed to benzene in the outdoor environment, in the workplace, and in the home. Exposure of the general population to benzene mainly occurs through breathing air that contains benzene. The major sources of benzene exposure are tobacco smoke, gas stations, exhaust from cars and trucks, and industrial emissions.
Vapors (or gases) from products that contain benzene, such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents, can also be a source of exposure. Auto exhaust and industrial emissions account for about 20 percent of the total national exposure to benzene. About half of the exposure to benzene in the United States results from smoking or from exposure to tobacco smoke. The average smoker (32 cigarettes per day) takes in about 1.8 milligrams (mg) of benzene per day. This amount is about 10 times the average daily intake of benzene by nonsmokers.
People living in cities or industrial areas are generally exposed to higher levels of benzene in air than those living in rural areas. Benzene levels in the home are usually higher than outdoor levels. People may be exposed to higher levels of benzene in air by living near hazardous waste sites, petroleum refining operations, petrochemical manufacturing sites, or gas stations.
For most people, the level of exposure to benzene through food, beverages, or drinking water is not as high as through air. Drinking water typically contains less than 0.1 ppb benzene. Benzene has been detected in some bottled water, liquor, soda, and food. Leakage from underground gasoline storage tanks or from landfills and hazardous waste sites that contain benzene can result in benzene contamination of well water. People with benzene-contaminated tap water can be exposed from drinking the water or eating foods prepared with the water. In addition, exposure can result from breathing in benzene while showering, bathing, or cooking with contaminated water.
Individuals employed in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels of benzene. As many as 238,000 people may be occupationally exposed to benzene in the United States. These industries include benzene production (petrochemicals, petroleum refining, and coke and coal chemical manufacturing), rubber tire manufacturing, and storage or transport of benzene and petroleum products containing benzene. Other workers who may be exposed to benzene include coke oven workers in the steel industry, printers, rubber workers, shoe makers, laboratory technicians, firefighters, and gas station employees.
Do you have leukemia or cancer from environmental exposure to benzene? Talk to a law firm today about your legal options.