What is Benzene Found In?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will briefly define and describe a chemical compound known as benzene. Then, you will learn about the many industrial and home-based substances that contain this toxic chemical.

Dangerous Substances

We often talk about a lot of substances that are dangerous to our health--ones that may be found at home, in the workplace, or in nature. Common ones include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and even radon. However, another substance--one that is not as famous--is an equal danger to our precious health. It is called benzene.

What is Benzene?

Benzene is a chemical compound. It is clear and colorless or light yellow when held at room temperature. It has a sweet gasoline smell to it, but it is anything but a 'sweet' substance, as it is highly flammable, toxic, and carcinogenic, or cancer causing. While it is a liquid hydrocarbon (made of hydrogen and carbon), it can evaporate into the air very quickly as well.

This shows the molecular structure of benzene. The gray balls represent carbon, the white balls represent hydrogen, and the bars between the balls represent the chemical bonds between the elements.

Besides being a fire and explosion hazard, benzene is a serious health hazard. In the short term, exposure to benzene can cause headaches, drowsiness, dizziness as well as irritation of the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. At high levels, it can cause unconsciousness.

In the long run, benzene can cause serious health issues. These include cancers such as leukemia, irregular menstrual periods as well as a rare and extremely dangerous form of anemia.

Where is Benzene Found?

Benzene occurs naturally as a part of oil, cigarette smoke, gasoline, forest fires, and volcanoes. This means it can be found in the air around us as a pollutant from people smoking, car exhausts, industrial emissions, and gas stations.

However, benzene is also derived from many unnatural processes, including coal distillation and the refinement of crude oil. Benzene is then used to make many other products and chemicals. Examples of these include:

  • Plastics
  • Resins
  • Rubber
  • Lubricants
  • Inks and dyes
  • Synthetic fibers, like nylon
  • Detergents
  • Varnishes
  • Lacquer thinners
  • Explosives
  • Waxes, such as for furniture or auto care
  • Oils (it's used to help extract oil from seeds and nuts)
  • Paints and coatings
  • Pesticides
  • Glues, adhesives, and sealants
  • Various lab chemicals
  • Drugs (including pharmaceutical compounds)

As a result of its use in many indoor products, indoor air can contain higher levels of benzene than outdoor air. This is because glues and paints used during home construction may contain benzene. Detergents and furniture wax applied by homeowners may release benzene into the indoor air as well. People who smoke indoors are only further raising their risk of long-term deadly toxicosis, or sickness caused from poisoning.

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