Introducing Benzene Biomonitoring
Benzene is an important industrial chemical and a common environmental pollutant.
What is benzene?
- Benzene is a chemical that is a colourless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odour and is highly flammable.
- Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapour is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas.
- Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water.
Where is benzene found and how is it used?
- Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.
- Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
- Benzene was first discovered and isolated from coal tar in the 1800’s. Today, benzene is made mostly from petroleum. Benzene is widely used. According to the CDC it ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume in the United States.
- Some industries use benzene to make intermediates employed in plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibres. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
How could you be exposed to benzene?
- Everyone is exposed to a small amount of benzene every day. You are exposed to benzene in the outdoor environment, in the workplace, and in the home. Exposure of the general population to benzene mainly occurs through breathing air that contains benzene.
- Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.
- Indoor air generally contains levels of benzene higher than those in outdoor air. The benzene in indoor air comes from products that contain benzene such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.
- People living in cities or industrial areas are generally exposed to higher levels of benzene in air than those living in rural areas.
- People may be exposed to higher levels of benzene in air by living near hazardous waste sites, petroleum refining operations, petrochemical manufacturing sites, or gas stations.
- Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks or from hazardous waste sites containing benzene can contaminate well water.
- People working in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels.
- A major source of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke.
Why measure benzene exposure?
The WHO describes benzene exposure as a ‘major public health concern.’ Biomonitoring is a crucial step in helping to prevent exposure and eliminate risk from benzene exposure. The only way to determine whether you have been exposed to benzene is to measure the level in your body. Benzene can be measured in the human body using a biomarker called S-phenylmercapturic acid (S-PMA). This can easily be detected in a sample of urine. The UK HSE, the US ACGIH and the German DFG all recommend the measurement of S-PMA to determine benzene exposure.
Chemitrace benzene tests measure the urinary specific biomarker S-PMA. Our benzene biomonitoring tests have been validated in an independent comparative study with the UK HSL. The results of these studies have been presented at international scientific conferences and published in peer reviewed scientific literature. Visit our resources page to find out more.