In the contemporary world, people rely on industries for jobs and products, such as food and manufactured goods. However, these sectors expose workers and the surrounding populations to benzene, which adversely impacts human health. In the US, through Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the government imposes restrictions to reduce human contact with high levels of benzene (American Cancer Society 2016). For example, the agency limits exposure to this element in workplaces to 1 ppm during an average workday and a maximum of 5 ppm over 15 minutes (American Cancer Society 2016). Despite these efforts, benzene exposure is a widespread occurrence that causes significant health complications and diseases, such as cancer.
Benzene is a natural or human-made organic compound with different industrial uses. According to CDC (2018), benzene is characterized by its flammability, a light-yellow organic compound with a sweet odor when burning. The element is also highly toxic, evaporates quickly, and it is carcinogenic. CDC (2018) also indicates that benzene forms through natural processes and human activities. Forest fires and volcano activities naturally produce it. Human activities such as vehicle exhausts, industrial processes, gasoline vapors, and cigarette smoking also contribute to benzene emissions. Some drugs, detergents, rubbers, lubricants, and pesticides use benzene in their manufacturing (CDC 2018). During its use or production, benzene becomes exposed to the environment and occupational settings.
People, especially those in industrialized regions, become exposed to benzene when they inhale air containing the compound. According to CDC (2018), human activities such as gasoline fumes, industrial emissions, tobacco smoking, and motor vehicle exhausts expose people to benzene through the air. Additionally, Grigoryan et al. (2018) indicates that industries producing or using benzene expose employees to benzene through breathing or bodily contact. Therefore, people living or working near traffic routes, industries, and gas stations are at a high risk of breathing benzene. The problem is also widespread in enclosed and poorly ventilated places with fumes from paints, glues, and solvents. Additionally, people exposed to benzene in occupational settings work in the rubber industry, chemical plants, and oil refineries. Exposure to the compound causes several human health complications.
Benzene contaminates the environment and causes human health problems due to its carcinogenic feature. As Sekar, Varghese, and (2020) note, benzene occur in the environment as vapor and when oxidized combines with rain water. Additionally, residential and occupational exposure to benzene causes substantial health conditions for human beings (Grigoryan et al., 2018). While the compound in water bodies promotes the development of aquatic life, the vapor benzene in the atmosphere adversely affects human health. For example, inhaling the compound causes blood disorders, reproductive problems, and cancerous complications. Benzene-related health effects range from acute to chronic.
Benzene is associated with acute and chronic health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2019), acute exposure to benzene causes dizziness, tremors, headaches, confusion, irregular heartbeats, and unconsciousness. On the other hand, chronic exposure to benzene in occupational settings causes cancer, reproductive problems, and blood disorders (American Cancer Society, 2016). Additionally, prolonged contact with compound leads to myeloid leukemia, acute and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Benzene causes aplastic anemia by reducing white and red blood cells’ synthesis in the bone marrow. Lastly, prolonged exposure to the component causes decreases ovary sizes, reducing or destabilizing the menstrual cycle (Grigoryan et al. 2018). Therefore, benzene is harmful to human health as it leads to several serious medical complications.
Overall, benzene exposure is a common occurrence that causes significant health complications and diseases. This compound forms through natural and human activities. People use benzene to make detergents, drugs, and pesticides. During the use and the production of the compound, people inhale air containing it, especially in industrialized and occupational settings. When released into the environment, the compound contaminates the air and water and causes adverse health conditions, such as cancer and anemia. For example, short-term exposure to benzene causes headaches and dizziness, while long-term contact leads to cancer and reproductive problems. Therefore, administrations need to establish more stringent measures to protect the populations from this health threat.
American Cancer Society. (2016). Benzene and cancer risk. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/benzene.html
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Facts About benzene. Retrieved from https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/benzene/basics/facts.asp.
Grigoryan H. et al. (2018). Adductomic signatures of benzene exposure provide insights into cancer induction. Carcinogenesis, 39(5), 661-668. https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgy042
Sekar A Varghese,G, & Varmab R. (2019). Analysis of benzene air quality standards, monitoring methods and concentrations in indoor and outdoor environment. Heliyon. 5(11) doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02918
World Health Organization. (2019). Exposure to benzene : A major public health concern. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/ipcs/features/benzene.pdf