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Benzene Sources: Where It Can Be Found

Benzene is a human carcinogen used in several products and industries. High levels of exposure to benzene can be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), long-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause leukemia and other cancers, menstrual issues in women, and congenital disabilities in children.

Aside from its sweet odor, it can be hard to detect the presence of benzene. Because benzene has rapid evaporation levels, it's also hard to see it.

Because it's dangerous, various state departments, including the EPA, DHHS, and OSHA, regulate the use of benzene. For example, there are short-term and long-term exposure limits for benzene in the workplace. There are also maximum acceptable benzene concentrations in drinking water and beverages.

This article explains what products contain benzene and how you can come into contact with this dangerous chemical. It also discusses the adverse health effects of long-term exposure. If you believe exposure to benzene caused your cancer or some other illness, contact a personal injury lawyer specializing in toxic tort law immediately.

Is Benzene Harmful to Public Health?

Coming into contact with benzene can make you sick. Typically, low levels of benzene won't be harmful. Most of us encounter benzene daily through motor vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, cigarette smoke, and other air pollutants. Even nonsmokers come into contact with benzene from time to time.

But if you encounter high levels of benzene, you can become quite ill. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), benzene causes damage to red blood cells. It can also compromise the human immune system. Higher levels of benzene exposure can also cause damage to your nervous system.

Natural Processes That Produce Benzene

For the most part, humans are exposed to benzene through consumer products. But natural processes produce this chemical as well. For example, forest fires produce benzene. So do volcanic eruptions.

People in firefighting and related industries may suffer from occupational exposure to benzene. Whether they get sick depends on the amount of benzene they encounter. It also depends on the concentration of benzene in the air. Companies are legally required to maintain low levels of benzene to ensure occupational safety.

Just because these processes are natural doesn't mean they don't cause environmental health issues.

Products Containing Benzene

Even though the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has listed it as dangerous, manufacturers still use benzene in many products. Some of these include:

  • Paint
  • Lacquer
  • Varnish removers
  • Industrial solvents
  • Gasoline and other fuels
  • Glues
  • Furniture wax
  • Detergents
  • Adhesives and coatings
  • Rubbers
  • Crude oil
  • Industrial cleaning and degreasing formulations

If you use any of these products, you risk coming into contact with benzene.

Is There Benzene in Soft Drinks?

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

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

A recent FDA/CFSAN study shows that most soft drinks and other beverages to date do not pose a safety concern. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to follow up with companies producing beverages with high benzene levels.

Processes That Involve Benzene

Even if you avoid products that use benzene as an additive, you can still be at risk. Many processes use benzene. Some of these are things you encounter daily. For example, if you get your clothes dry cleaned, you can be exposed to benzene. The same is true if you stop to get gas.

Some of the significant sources of benzene exposure include the following:

  • Emissions from motor vehicle exhaust
  • Industrial emissions
  • Burning coal and oil
  • Painting and lithography
  • Dry cleaning
  • Chemicals used to make plastics, resins, nylons, and synthetic fibers
  • Making certain products, such as lubricants, dyes, detergents, pesticides, and certain drugs

If these activities surround you, you could be at risk of developing cancer, anemia, or bone marrow damage.

Where Can You Find Benzene?

You can find benzene in surprising places. For example, the air around waste sites and gas service stations contains benzene. Because auto emissions expel benzene, you're bound to encounter it at auto garages.

If you live near factories and industrial processing plants, you may suffer from contaminated well water. Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks and hazardous waste sites. Exposure levels in these places can be dangerously high.

You could be at risk depending on the parts per million (ppm) concentration. Given the adverse effects of benzene, it's wise to avoid these areas if possible.

Were You Exposed to Benzene?

Medical professionals use several toxicology tests to determine whether you've been overexposed to benzene. These tests measure benzene levels in your blood, breath, and urine. Your healthcare provider must perform these tests shortly after exposure. Otherwise, the benzene levels may not be accurate.

Benzene detection in urine involves the measurement of benzene metabolites (end products of benzene), some of which you can measure. But this is only a partially accurate test. There can be many other reasons for the presence of similar metabolites in urine.

Symptoms of Benzene Exposure

If exposed to high levels of benzene, you want to watch for specific symptoms. These are the signs that you may have encountered toxic levels of this dangerous chemical.

The following symptoms are signs of benzene toxicity:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

If you've experienced these symptoms following exposure to benzene in any of the above-listed contexts, contact your doctor or go directly to a medical facility for testing.

Have an Attorney Review Your Toxic Torts Claim

If you suspect you may have encountered high levels of benzene, act quickly and go to the emergency room. They will do the necessary tests to determine whether your health is in danger.

If you are injured, speak with a toxic torts lawyer. You can get started today with a free claim evaluation.

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