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Last edited 06 Dec 2023
Benzene (chemical formula C6H6) is also referred to as benzol, benzole and cyclohexatriene(an isomer of benzene). It is carcinogenic colourless or light-yellow liquid, and natural component of crude oil, which can increase the risk of Leukemia as well as various other blood disorders.
Benzene is considered as a volatile organic compound or VOC. Organic compounds are defined in The Volatile Organic Compounds in Paints, Varnishes and Vehicle Refinishing Products Regulations 2012 as 'any compound containing at least the element carbon and one or more of hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur, phosphorus, silicon, nitrogen, or a halogen, with the exception of carbon oxides and inorganic carbonates and bicarbonates', with a volatile organic compound being 'any organic compound having an initial boiling point less than or equal to 250°C measured at a standard pressure of 101.3 kPa'
It is used as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, can be found in adhesives, glues, nylon, plastics, paint strippers, resins, synthetic fibres, in some rubber types, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. It is also found in tobacco smoke, petrol fumes, vehicle exhaust fumes and industrial emissions. Relatively minor sources of naturally occurring bezene can be found in volcanic eruptions and as a result of forest fires.
In 2023 it is estimated that 62.19 million metric tonnes of benzene will produced globally, with predictions for this to increase, in the US it continues to fall in the top 20 chemicals by production volume. In the European Economic Area the substance is registered under the REACH Regulation with manufacture and / or import standing at around at 100,000 tonnes per annum.
Exposure to Benzene for more than a year can cause harmful effects on bone marrow as well as a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can have negative effects on the liver, kidney, lungs, heart and brain and can also cause excessive bleeding that can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection. Exposure to benzene may also be harmful to the reproductive organs, with evidence of irregular menstrual periods in women exposed to high levels of benzene over many months. The International Agency for Cancer Research and the EPA have determined benzene to be carcinogenic to humans.
The main source of benzene in the air comes from motor vehicle exhaust fumes, especially in urban areas, though these have been reduced over recent years. The reduction in benzene emissions are a direct result of air quality control scheme such as: Clean Air Zones in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield, and Tyneside (Newcastle and Gateshead). Low Emission Zones (LEZ) such as found in Glasgow as well as Ultra Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ) as introduced to parts of London on 2019.
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