Benzene

Note: There are no medical tests to determine long-term exposure to low levels of benzene.

What is benzene?

Benzene is the name of an aromatic hydrocarbon, C6H6.

In liquid form, benzene is clear, colorless and flammable. At room temperature, liquid benzene evaporates easily into the air, and can dissolve in water. In the environment, benzene may be present in air, water, and soil. It is also a naturally occurring product of decomposition in some foods.

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Where does benzene come from?

Benzene comes mainly from petroleum. It has been used in, or used to manufacture, a wide variety of chemical products, including DDT (dichloro-diphenyl- trichloroethane), detergents, insecticides and motor fuels. Used as a substitute for lead, benzene now makes up 1 to 2 percent of every gallon of gasoline and it is released as a by-product of fuel combustion.

Benzene is also produced in the burning of tobacco, and is one of the nearly 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke. The once widespread use of benzene as a solvent in paints, adhesives, and paint removers has decreased in recent years.

What are the health effects of benzene?

Half of the benzene a person inhales is then exhaled. The rest is temporarily stored in the body’s bone marrow and fat. The liver and bone marrow break benzene down into metabolites (the products of physical or chemical processes in the body). Some of these metabolites, such as hydroquinone, are more toxic than benzene. The metabolites are then eliminated from the body after about two days.

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How might I be exposed to benzene in Vermont?

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There are no medical tests to determine long-term exposure to low levels of benzene.

There are no generally useful tests for determining the extent of an individual’s benzene exposure. The benzene disappears quickly in the body, and the very high levels of resulting metabolites will not be detected unless the initial exposure was implausibly high.

Currently there are no tests that are useful in determining long-term, low-level exposure to benzene. People who work in specific occupations that cause them to be exposed to benzene can be monitored by urine testing.

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