Benzene

Benzene is a clear, colourless, and flammable liquid that comes from natural sources (crude oil) or is generated in chemical processes.

Protection

Exposure to benzene mainly occurs through inhalation, digestion or direct contact through the eyes and skin.

Where possible you should not use benzene, or use other, safer materials that don't contain it.

If you have to work with benzene you must:

  • reduce emissions escaping closed systems
  • keep closed systems closed
  • use ventilation
  • use the right personal protective equipment (PPE), eg chemical resistant gloves and masks
  • train workers to fit, use and maintain PPE
  • have safety equipment available, eg eye wash and showers
  • do air monitoring regularly
  • always follow the advice in safety data sheets and on product labels.

In the event of suspected exposure, call the Poisons Information Centre on 131 126

Uses

Benzene is mainly produced from the petrochemical industry and is also found in cigarette smoke. It is used as a laboratory solvent and a precursor to chemicals such as styrene and cyclohexane. It is also used in the manufacturing of products such as rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.

Harms

The potential for harm depends on concentration and duration of use. Brief exposure to high concentrations of benzene can cause:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • tremors
  • confusion
  • unconsciousness
  • nose and throat irritation.

Like other hydrocarbons, benzene can cause a chemical pneumonia if it is aspirated. Inhalation of very large amounts of benzene can also result in death.

Prolonged or repeated contact with the skin causes redness, drying and cracking because benzene dissolves and removes the protective natural oils from the skin. Benzene can also cause blood-related illnesses ranging from anaemia and excessive bleeding, to decreased immune response. Benzene is also a proven human carcinogen as it can cause blood cancer (leukemia).

More information

Read the benzene technical fact sheet.

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