The Occupational Risk: Toxic Benzene Exposure

Despite Improved Indoor Air Quality In Manufacturing, Benzene Exposure Is Still An Occupational Risk.

Despite Improved Indoor Air Quality In Manufacturing, Benzene Exposure Is Still An Occupational Risk.

Back in 1903, German coffee merchant, Ludwig Roselius, invented the first commercially effective decaffeination method. The “Roselius Process” blended steamed coffee beans with a brine solution then coated the mix in a natural chemical solvent to extract the caffeine. Though successful, the practice was no longer used once the extraction compound was deemed unsafe.

So began a globally conflicted relationship with benzene.

Light yellow and at times colorless, benzene is an important organic chemical compound (C6H6). It has a sweet aroma (such as the odor present at gas stations) and is highly flammable. It can naturally occur as a result of forest fires and volcanic eruptions and is an organic component of crude oil. Benzene is one of the essential petrochemicals. (1)

Because of it’s popularity, benzene is also manufactured as a synthetic compound, ranking 17th among the top 20 chemicals produced in the United States. (1)

Plastics, pesticides, rubber, drugs and dyes are just some of the products created from benzene. When blended with other chemicals, benzene assists in the production of plastics, resins and nylon products. Benzene remains a key ingredient in gasoline. (2) (6) And yet, this highly useful and universal chemical compound is potentially hazardous. Even lethal.

Benzene – in both its organic and synthetic forms – is an aggressive carcinogen. The EPA has warned of the risks of all routes of exposure.

When inhaled, even short-term (acute) exposure can cause headaches, drowsiness, confusion and dizziness. It can irritate eyes, nose and throat. Benzene can also render one unconscious if levels are high enough. Worse, long-term (chronic) exposure has resulted in serious blood disorders, anemia, and reproductive problems and of course, cancer. (2) (5)

The average human will likely not encounter benzene at levels high enough to do damage. However, personnel in industries that work with benzene, such as, petrochemical, petroleum refining, and certain types of manufacturing are at high risk of exposure. OSHA estimates those in the following jobs are at highest risk for occupational exposure:

In petrochemical plants, petroleum refineries and coke production: routine exposures occur mainly to unit operators, tank car loaders and unloaders, laboratory technicians and maintenance personnel. In tire manufacturing: process operators, workers who store, mix, load and unload solvents, tire builders and tubers, laboratory technicians and maintenance personnel are all exposed. (3)

In addition, OSHA adds that occupations such as steel laborers, printers, and shoe and rubber workers all have some risk of occupational exposure to unhealthy levels of benzene and weakened indoor air quality.

Though American companies have gone to great lengths over the years to minimize their employees’ benzene exposure, it is a chemical still widely used and still highly dangerous.

The Division of Chemical Health and Safety of the American Chemical Society urged all business owners to implement and/or improve measures to minimize high exposures to benzene (4). With the severity of health risks at stake, no effort is too great to protect our nation’s workforce.

At Air Systems Inc., we protect our customers from potential benzene exposure by providing indoor air quality management solutions with our stellar indoor air quality products. For the health and peace of mind of you and your workforce, contact us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced environmental specialists.

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