Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. They have a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. They also are certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.
What Are Benzene Compounds?
Although you might not have heard of benzene, chances are that you have come in contact with products made with it everyday. Plastics, detergents, pesticides and even dyes used to color our clothes, food and pharmaceutical products are made with benzene.
Benzene is a special type of compound known as an aromatic ring. They were first named as such due to their sweet smell. A benzene ring has six carbon atoms are arranged in a hexagon with a hydrogen atom attached to each carbon. This geometric arrangement of atoms creates a stable structure due to the sharing of electrons between the carbon atoms.
Benzenes can be combined with other compounds during chemical reactions where new groups replace the hydrogen atoms on some of the carbon atoms in the ring to form benzene derivatives. The resulting molecules are quite versatile and are used in a variety of applications today. Next, we'll look at some of these compounds and the potential risks that come with using benzene.
Most of the benzene produced each year is funneled into making ethyl benzene. Ethyl benzene replaces one of the hydrogen atoms attached to the ring with an ethyl group. Ethyl benzene is found naturally in coal tar and petroleum, but also is used to make inks, pesticides, paint and other chemicals. However, the main use of ethyl benzene is to make styrene and then polystyrene.
Styrene is used to make latex, synthetic rubber and polystyrene. If you have a rug in your house, take a look at the bottom of it. If you see a rubber backing, chances are it is made with styrene-butadiene rubber, a type of styrene. It's also used for conveyor belts, flooring, wire insulation and even the rubber soles of your shoes.
Now, check out your refrigerator contents and note how many products are covered in plastic or some other type of packaging. Unless they are made of paper, chances are polystyrene is protecting your food. Polystyrene is made from styrene and is a common material in food packaging materials, disposable cups, containers and insulation.
Most of us have popped an aspirin at some point to treat a headache, bruise, or other painful ailment. This over the counter pain medication is actually made with a benzene derivative called phenol. Phenol is also used as a starting point to make plastics, explosives, and a common dye used in our clothing and food, called azo dye.
Phenol itself is used as an antiseptic and a disinfectant in household cleaners in low concentrations. In fact, the first antiseptic used in surgery by Joseph Lister (have you ever used the mouthwash Listerine?) in 1865, significantly decreasing the number of mortalities caused by infection.
Aniline is a versatile benzene derivative used to make many products, from dyes to explosives, synthetic rubber, photographic chemicals and even drugs. Aniline is used to produce acetaminophen, or tylenol, another over the counter pain medication. Woodworking creates the beautiful furniture we see in our homes, like tables and ornate chairs. Aniline is used to make many colorful finishes for these pieces.
Sodium dodecylbenzene sulphonate
At some point or another, laundry day rears its ugly head. The chore of carrying a large basket of laundry, detergent and quarters if you live in an apartment, can be a bummer. But, the yield of clean clothes keeps us coming back for more every week. The reason your laundry can be washed is due to a benzene derivative called sodium dodecylbenzene sulphonate. This derivative of dodecylbenzene, a benzene ring with a chain of 10 hydrocarbons attached, is commonly used in detergents. Similarly, dodecylbenzene sulfonate can be used as a surfactant in makeup cleansing agents.
Benzene has long been known as a powerful carcinogen, or compound that causes cancer. Most of the risks in benzene exposure and exposure to other benzene derivatives like those discussed here are during the manufacturing process. Exposure through physical contact or inhalation are serious concerns for workers producing benzene derivatives and their products. Repeated exposure to concentrated benzene derivatives can cause serious health problems and even death. Many are poisonous and corrosive, causing serious burns if handled improperly.
However, limited amounts of benzene derivatives, such as those in plastics, drugs and food have been deemed safe. The Food and Drug administration has approved the use of benzene derivative products, such as ethyl benzene as additives to food and in food packaging in small amounts, although some research suggests that more studies are needed.
Benzene is a carcinogenic, aromatic compound used in production of many household goods. Benzene can be modified to have different groups attached to the ring carbons, creating benzene derivatives. Ethyl benzene is used to manufacture styrene, which is used in the production of latex, synthetic rubber and polystyrene, which is used mainly in food packaging. Phenol and its derivatives are used to make aspirin, antiseptics, explosives, plastics, and dyes used in textiles and food. Aniline is also used to make dyes and is used in the manufacture of acetaminophen. All benzene compounds are carcinogenic and carry serious health risks, particularly to the workers manufacturing the products.
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