This chemical is found in crude oils and exhaust fumes and is used as a solvent in paints, varnishes and lacquer thinners, and in the synthesis of other chemicals. It is heavier than air and can collect in dangerous concentrations near the ground.
There is a risk of exposure – usually by breathing air containing benzene – for steelworkers, printers, lab technicians, petrol station employees and firefighters. Site workers at manufacturing plants that produce detergents, drugs, lubricants, dyes, pesticides etc, are exposed to it if the ground has been contaminated.
Symptoms of brief exposure to a high concentration of benzene include headaches, tremors, tiredness, confusion, dizziness and nausea. Exposure to lower levels of benzene over a long period affects the blood and causes anaemia, because the bone marrow is prevented from producing enough red blood cells. The immune system is susceptible to damage due to the impact on antibodies and white blood cells. In the worst cases of exposure, people suffer from various blood-related cancers including leukaemia.
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Stringent controls are required to protect workers where there is a risk of exposure to benzene. These measures escalate as the risk of exposure increases, and include the use of PPE, and ventilation and extraction equipment.