Exposure to The Carcinogen Benzene

Benzene, a colorless yellow liquid at room temperature, has a sweet odor, is highly flammable and evaporates quickly. It is also a potent carcinogen to which we are all exposed. This is why it’s important to avoid contact with this chemical. Learn about exposure, effects and how to limit the negative consequences of benzene exposure below.

Exposure to Benzene: Where Does it Exist?

English: Image showing a bottle of Benzene

English: Image showing a bottle of Benzene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are many ways a person can become exposed to this carcinogen, including working for companies that use or manufacture benzene and being inadequately protected from the carcinogen. However, we are all exposed to benzene to some degree because it exists in the air due to industrial emissions, waste sites, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline and tobacco smoke. Benzene is also included in household products like detergents, paints, and glues, which indicate that exposure is not limited to the outdoors. Well water can also be contaminated due to the underground storage of benzene which can leak.

Five parts of benzene per one billion parts of water is the maximum allowable percentage according to the EPA. However, many soft drinks tested by the FDA contained much more than this percentage. The EPA as a result issued a mandate to these companies requiring a reduction in benzene. Soft drinks and other beverages can contain potassium benzoate and sodium benzoate, which are benzoate salts used for preservation.

The Effects of Benzene Exposure

Short and long-term effects of benzene exposure are possible. When inhaled, symptoms of benzene exposure can include drowsiness, death, unconsciousness, confusion, headaches, tremors, dizziness, and irregular or rapid heartbeat. When consumed, symptoms can include irregular or rapid heartbeat, dizziness, stomach irritation, drowsiness and convulsions.

Controlling Exposure

There are several ways to control benzene exposure for those who do and don’t work around the carcinogen. For those not working around benzene, simply limit your contact as much as possible with contaminants like cigarette smoke and gasoline. If you do work around the carcinogen, make sure you wear protective equipment like canopies and hoods and that work spaces are well-ventilated. If ventilation is not possible you should use respirators for protection.


It’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to benzene, but with precautions you can reduce your exposure. Ideally do not work around benzene, do not smoke and do not exposure yourself to gasoline and gasoline-producing equipment and vehicles.