Benzene is a widely used substance, primarily used to make other chemicals such as ethylbenzene (precursor to styrene, used to make polymers and plastics), cumene (made into phenol for resins and adhesives) and cyclohexane (used to make nylon). Benzene is also used in the production of some rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents and pesticides, and has been found as an additive in petrol.
Benzene is a common pollutant in our homes. It is used in materials for construction, remodelling and decoration and can therefore be emitted from various decorating materials and polymeric materials e.g. vinyl, PVC and rubber floorings, as well as nylon carpets and rugs with SBR-latex substrate (styrene-butadiene latex), chipboard furniture, plywood, fibreglass, floor adhesives, paints, wood cladding, caulking and paint strippers. There are obviously high rates of emission from new and recently remodelled houses but benzene can also be emitted from incense, glues, wood furniture, detergents, cleaning products, solvents, hairsprays, pesticides, as well as polluting our water. This chemical can also be emitted from garages into our homes. The use of combustibles e.g. in heaters can increase their presence, and tobacco smoke also contains small quantities of benzene.
Scientists have linked benzene exposure to many health problems including non-lymphocytic acute leukaemia, anaemia, aplastic anaemia, immunosuppression, pre-leukaemia and thrombocytopenia.
It has also been associated with: arrhythmia, autoimmune antibodies, hearing loss, menstrual irregularity, premature birth, renal cancer or scleroderma, as well as acute lymphocytic leukaemia, asthma, bone cancer (Ewing sarcoma), adult brain cancer, breast cancer, congenital cardiac defects, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, gallbladder cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, multiple myeloma, nasopharyngeal cancer, neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and peripheral neuropathy.
Relatively high levels of benzene exposure at can cause symptoms such as stimulation, speech problems, problems, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, paraesthesia in the hands and feet, fatigue and fainting.