Benzene exposure: A common and hidden danger

Nov 17, 2020 | Benzene Exposure

You know about asbestos and how dangerous it is, but did you learn about benzene? Benzene can irritate the lining of the airways and cause inflammation in the nasal passages and throat. It’s extremely harmful to the skin. Even at low levels, benzene exposure could cause dermatitis. Symptoms of dermatitis may include red, itchy and dry skin. In more concentrated exposures, benzene spills and vapors have the potential to cause second-degree burns.

Benzene exposure doesn’t just have effects on the skin, though. It can also lead to neurological issues, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Nerve damage
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness/decreased consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Stupor

In high enough quantities, benzene exposure could lead to death.

Benzene may also lead to leukemia, aplastic anemia and pancytopenia.

How do you come into contact with benzene?

Benzene is still used in the United States today. Many manufacturers use it when creating their products. For example, benzene is used in the production of synthetic fabrics and can be found in motor vehicle exhaust.

The chemical enters the body in a few ways, such as through the skin or by ingestion. Normally, people are exposed by breathing air that contains benzene, so workers in industries where benzene is used are going to have a higher likelihood of exposure. However, around half of the U.S. population has been exposed to this chemical in one manner or another.

Most commonly, the general population is exposed through cigarette smoke. In fact, around 90% of all exposures come from smoking. It is also found in cleaning products, paint strippers, glues, industrial admissions, gasoline fumes and in other places. Exposure increases your risk of blood disorders, leukemia and other serious diseases and illnesses.

What should you do if you’ve been exposed to benzene?

If you feel unwell after being exposed, it’s important to seek medical care. However, in a general sense, if you’re exposed to benzene in the air, you may not be able to do anything about the exposure. Talk to your employer about improving airflow and personal protections. Don’t smoke, and limit exposure to gasoline fumes. These are all steps that will help you minimize additional risks from exposure.