3 Exposure Routes of Benzene

benzeneBenzene, a volatile organic chemical, is used as a component in motor fuels, and a solvent for such elements as fats, waxes, resins, and oils. In addition, it is used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, and pharmaceuticals.

The general population is exposed to benzene mainly through inhalation of contaminated air, particularly in areas of heavy traffic and around gas stations, and through inhalation of tobacco smoke from both active and passive smoking. Smoking has been identified as the single most important source of benzene exposure for the estimated 40 million U.S. smokers.

EPA has classified benzene as “known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure”. Although tobacco smoke accounts for nearly half the national exposure to benzene, industrial workers are exposed at much higher levels than is the general public. Occupational exposure to benzene indicates that absorption occurs through 3 types of routes: Inhalation, dermal, and oral, and can cause such health problems as acute nonlymphocytic leukemia and other blood disorders (i.e. preleukemia and aplastic anemia).

Exposure to toxic chemicals such as benzene can cause serious health problems. The following are some effects associated with benzene exposure:

1. Inhalation – Primary Route of Exposure. Short-term inhalation exposure to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and eye/ skin/respiratory tract irritations. Chronic inhalation exposure has been known to cause various blood disorders, distal neuropathy, and memory loss.

2. Dermal – Minor Route of Exposure. Benzene can be absorbed through the skin due to leakage from underground gasoline
storage tanks and seepage from landfills that have resulted in contamination of well water. People with benzene-contaminated tap water can be exposed during showering, bathing, or cooking, resulting in redness and blisters.

3. Oral – Minor Route of Exposure. Oral exposure results in symptoms similar to inhalation exposure. Acute inhalation and oral exposures to high concentrations of benzene have caused death. These exposures are also associated with central nervous system depression.

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