Chemical Testing: Benzene

Properties and Uses
  • A colourless liquid; it has a sweet odour.
  • It is a component of crude oil and can be produced from petroleum and coal.
  • Primarily used to make other chemicals such as styrene, lubricants, dyes and pharmaceuticals.
  • It is produced in vehicle exhausts and tobacco smoke.

The largest source of airborne Benzene results from vehicle operation; background concentrations of benzene, generally present in Canada’s urban areas, are less than 1 part per billion.

Short-term Health Effects of Benzene

Brief exposures to elevated concentrations of Benzene may cause short-term health effects such as eye and throat irritations, headache, dizziness and rapid heart rate. These symptoms are usually mild and will disappear when the exposure has ended and the person breathes fresh air.

High concentrations for short periods of time cause drowsiness, possible confusion and unconsciousness.

Long-term Health Effects of Benzene

Benzene is classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research. When breathed at 10 parts per million or higher for long periods of time, harmful effects may result in blood-forming organs causing low blood counts (anemia) and weakening of the immune system. Chronic exposure, over 5 – 10 years, to concentrations of Benzene 10 ppm, has been associated with the development of acute myeloid leukemia.