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Benzene Exposure

People at greatest risk of disease from benzene exposure are workers in various trades who are daily exposed to benzene from fuels or solvents in doing their jobs.

Exposure to benzene can occur through three main routes of exposure: inhalation, dermal absorption, and ingestion.  In industry, the greatest exposure to benzene typically results from inhalation.  However, workers who get fuels or solvents on their hands or skin, can also be exposed to high levels of benzene through dermal absorption.  Ingestion is usually not a major source of benzene exposure for workers, but people can ingest benzene from contaminated foods.

Inhaling very high levels of benzene can result in death, while high levels can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. Symptoms of lesser but still excessive exposure to benzene include headaches and dizziness.  Symptoms of dermal exposure to benzene include dry, chalky, flaky, cracked, and bleeding skin on the palms of the hands, resulting in dermatitis.  Typically, no symptoms are associated with low exposure to benzene, even though low level benzene exposure can be extremely harmful.

Exposure to benzene can result whenever carbon-rich materials undergo incomplete combustion. The biggest threat to people from exposure to benzene comes from this highly toxic chemical being used in everyday items.  Benzene is widely used in a vast range of products, such as plastics, detergents, synthetic fibres, resins, dyes, rubber, paint, and countless other products.

People with the various jobs are often exposed to dangerous levels of benzene:  chemical workers, chemists, coke oven workers, gasoline distribution workers, gas station attendants, laboratory technicians, leather workers, mechanics, newspaper pressmen, painters, printers, refinery workers, railroad workers, rubber workers, seamen, shoe workers, and tanker truck drivers.