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Benzene FAQ

Benzene is a carcinogen that manufacturers use in various products, such as glue, paint, and gasoline. Experts have linked it to cancer, leukemia, and other health issues. If you come into contact with benzene in high doses or over a long period, you can become seriously ill. Sadly, some people have died from extended exposure to this chemical.

This section explains where you may come into contact with benzene. It also discusses some of the health effects and illnesses caused by long-term exposure to benzene. Finally, it describes your options if you or a loved one become sick after coming in contact with this chemical.

This page covers the following frequently asked questions (FAQ):

Can you smell benzene?

Benzene is a mostly colorless liquid. Sometimes, it is light yellow. Benzene is easy to detect. It has a sweet odor, and it's highly flammable. It evaporates quickly, so it can be hard to notice when you come into contact with it.

You will likely smell benzene at a gas station or near factories. You may also smell it if you pass a dump or hazardous waste site.

What products contain benzene?

Many products contain benzene. It's one of the top 20 chemicals used in American manufacturing. This is one of the reasons you can find it in groundwater and soil. Companies that use benzene in their products store it as hazardous waste. However, it can leak out of containers and contaminate the environment. It can also cause air pollutants.

According to the CDC, some of the products that contain benzene include the following:

  • Plastics
  • Glue
  • Gasoline
  • Solvents
  • Cigarettes (tobacco smoke)
  • Paint
  • Furniture wax and resins
  • Lighter fluid
  • NylonG
  • Detergent
  • Pesticides
  • Dyes
  • Drugs

Contractors also use benzene in asphalt. If you have a new driveway installed, there's a good chance the asphalt will contain benzene. If so, you must take precautions to keep you and your family safe.

Is there benzene in soft drinks or other beverages?

Soft drinks and other beverages may contain benzoate salts (such as sodium or potassium). These salts act as preservatives that inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds.

Beverages may also contain vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to prevent spoilage and additional nutrients. Light and heat conditions cause benzoate salts to react with ascorbic acid to form benzene.

recent study shows that most soft drinks and other beverages to date do not pose a safety concern. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) performed this study. The FDA continues to follow up with companies producing beverages with high benzene levels.

How are people exposed to benzene?

There are several ways you can expose yourself to benzene. You don't have to work near industrial emissions or hydrocarbons to become sick. Many people come into contact with benzene through motor vehicle exhaust and tobacco smoke. Smelling benzene at gas stations is common because crude oil has benzene.

Other people come into contact with benzene from forest fires. If you work as a firefighter or live near fire zones, you may expose yourself to high levels of benzene.

Is sodium benzoate the same as benzene?

Technically, sodium benzoate is not the same as benzene. Sodium benzoate is a very common preservative that can turn into benzene. Some users worry that similar-sounding ingredients mean they have to avoid both altogether. However, you should be safe as long as you don't expose yourself to high levels of benzene.

What injuries and illnesses can benzene cause?

The biggest concern with benzene is that it can cause cancer. Specifically, benzene causes leukemia. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), long-term exposure to benzene causes the following illnesses:

Even low levels of benzene can make you sick. If you detect its odor or discover its presence, get fresh air immediately. Protect yourself from the harmful effects of this chemical.

How long until benzene exposure causes cancer?

Any exposure to benzene can make you sick. However, according to the American Cancer Society, in most cases, people develop cancer after at least a year of exposure. This doesn't mean you're guaranteed to fall ill. But people who come into contact with benzene for years are at a greater risk of developing cancer, anemia, and other illnesses.

Can I sue for exposure that happened a long time ago?

Many workers who worked with or near benzene for years are still filing lawsuits today. Whether you can still sue depends on your state's statute of limitations. Every state has rules on how long you have to file a legal claim. The clock starts when you learn (or should've learned) that benzene exposure caused your illness.

How do I prove a benzene product liability claim?

To prevail in your benzene exposure lawsuit, you must prove the following:

  • First, your personal injury lawyer must show that you were exposed to benzene.
  • Second, you must submit proof that you're sick. Most attorneys use your medical records for proof.
  • Finally, you need to prove that it was benzene exposure that caused your particular illness.

Many plaintiffs recover damages by joining a class action lawsuit. It isn't easy to pursue individual cases. That doesn't mean you can't sue the responsible parties. It just means that many benzene lawsuits involve numerous plaintiffs.

Are there federal regulations on benzene?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that benzene is a carcinogen for humans. Therefore, it has set a maximum contaminant level of benzene in drinking water at five parts benzene per billion parts of water (5 ppb).

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also implemented special regulations regarding benzene. OSHA has set limits of 1 part benzene per million parts of workspace air (1 ppm) for eight-hour shifts and 40-hour work weeks.

Can medical tests detect benzene exposure?

You can detect benzene's presence in the human body by measuring breath, blood, and urine levels. Undergo these tests shortly after exposure to benzene.

Urine tests may not be a reliable indicator of benzene exposure since the breakdown products may have come from other sources. If you notice that you're experiencing benzene exposure symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately.

The symptoms of benzene exposure include the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Convulsion
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Confusion
  • Tremors

Of course, having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you've been exposed to benzene. Any number of things can cause these problems. This is why you need to get tested to ensure that you haven't ingested or come into contact with dangerous levels of benzene.

How can I protect myself against benzene exposure?

OSHA recommends controlling exposure by limiting evaporation and preventing spills and splashes. If you work in an industry that makes or uses benzene, it's prudent to use hoods, canopies, proper ventilation systems, and personal protective equipment.

Otherwise, you should limit contact with gasoline and cigarette smoke. Families are encouraged not to smoke in their houses, enclosed environments, or near children.

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