How Benzene in Cigarette Smoke Can Hurt You

Signs of Benzene Exposure

How Benzene in Cigarette Smoke Can Hurt You

Benzene is a chemical used in many common industrial products. It is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature and it is highly flammable. gasoline, benzene has a sweet odor that can help you detect its presence in the air.

It can evaporate into the air and become breathed into the lung causing serious damage. It is dangerous to come into contact with and can cause a number of unpleasant or even life-changing symptoms and illnesses.

Individuals working in industries that use benzene in their production are often the most at risk for developing benzene poisoning.

If you or someone you love has been exposed to benzene, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of benzene poisoning.  The following information will inform you about the effects of benzene and what to do in case you are exposed.

What is Benzene Poisoning?

Benzene is a colorless petroleum-based chemical that is used to manufacture industrial dyes, explosives, synthetic rubber, detergents, plastics and pesticides. It is also found in gasoline and the smoke that comes from cigarettes.

Benzene poisoning can be lethal because it causes the cells in the body to work incorrectly.

Benzene exposure can cause bone marrow cells to not produce red blood cells or it can can cause the white blood cells of your immune system to fail.

There is a window of time after smelling benzene during a leak to be able to take action or leave the area without any harm, but persistent exposure can be dangerous.

all poisons, the severity of benzene poisoning is directly related to the amount of exposure you’ve had to benzene, as well as the route of contact and the length of time you were exposed. In addition, pre-existing medical conditions and age can play a large role in the severity of your benzene poisoning symptoms.

Where is Benzene Found?

As mentioned, Benzene can be found in gasoline and diesel fuel. As such, it can be found outdoors as a result of industrial emissions, motor vehicle exhaust fumes, and tobacco smoke. In fact, one of the largest sources of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke.

It is a common ingredient in many industrial solvents and can also be added to paints and lacquers. Some of the most common places you can find benzene indoors includes glues, paints, and detergents. It is not legal or safe for benzene to be used in home cleaning products, toys or equipment and is only fit for industrial purposes.

It can be released into air via sprays and aerosols, mists, or vapors which can be especially harmful in an agricultural setting. It can also be found in contaminated water or food.

It is highly flammable with a very low flash point. It is heavier than air, so during a leak it tends to be found down low in sewer areas where it can pool. Benzene poisoning occurs after the chemical is swallowed, inhaled or touched with exposed skin. If you or someone you love has been exposed to benzene, immediate action must be taken following contact.

If you’ve been exposed to benzene, the symptoms you experience will be dependent on the type of poisoning you’ve had.

Ingesting the substance, for example, can cause discomfort in the stomach and a loss of appetite. It can also cause a myriad of digestive symptoms, including:

  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Convulsions
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Irritation of the stomach
  • Death

Breathing in benzene, will affect you differently. For example, breathing in high levels of benzene could result in:

  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Pale skin
  • Bumps on skin
  • Tight chest feeling
  • Unconsciousness
  • Euphoria
  • Weakness
  • Death

It is possible in extreme cases that you can go into shock and collapse.

Long Term Effects of Benzene Exposure

Long-term exposure of over a year or more to benzene is not safe. These effects can be devastating to the body and cause significant harm to an individual’s blood.

It can cause excessive bleeding, a significantly reduced and ineffective immune system and anemia.  Women may experience irregular menstrual cycles and it can affect fertility levels.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also warned that long-term exposure to benzene can cause blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

What to Do If You Suspect Benzene Exposure

If you think you may have been exposed to benzene, the first step is to seek professional medical assistance. It is essential that you do not try to vomit up the chemical if you have swallowed it.

If you have breathed in benzene, seek fresh air as quickly as possible. Get outdoors and as far away from the benzene exposure as possible.

If you are indoors, your building may evacuate you to a specific shelter specifically for incidents of chemical exposure.

While you are waiting for assistance, remove your clothing and avoid pulling benzene exposed clothing over your head. Instead, try to cut off the clothing and remove it from your body as quickly as possible.

Wash yourself and your skin with warm soap and water. Flush out any benzene that might be in the mouth or eyes for at least fifteen minutes.

Remove any contact lenses that may have come in contact with benzene and discard them immediately with your contaminated clothing.

When discarding contaminated clothing, place your clothes inside a plastic bag and avoid touching them with your hands. Wear rubber gloves or use tongs if necessary. Place that bag inside another sealed plastic bag in order to protect others from coming in contact with the contaminated clothing items.

You can also contact the national poison line, but in the first instance it should be a medical professional or 911. When you call emergency services, they will need to know your age, weight, the time the product was swallowed / inhaled, and the exact name of the product.

If you are calling on behalf of someone else, you’ll still need all of this information in advance so that the medical team can treat the patient quickly and effectively.

When emergency medical personnel arrive, be sure to let them discard your contaminated clothing appropriately.

When you reach the hospital, blood tests will be taken, fluids will be delivered through an IV, and you may be required to undergo an endoscopy. This is where a camera looks into your stomach via the throat to ensure there’s no permanent damage.

Outlook after Benzene Exposure

The faster you seek medical advice and assistance after exposure, the more ly you are to have a quick recovery. When the poisoning is severe, or when there is a dramatic reaction, death is a possibility and can occur anywhere up to three days after the incident.

Benzene poisoning can be a serious and life altering accident, but there are ways to protect yourself to ensure you remain safe. If you feel you or a loved one has experienced benzene poisoning, call us or visit our website for more information on your legal options.


Benzene and Cancer Risk

How Benzene in Cigarette Smoke Can Hurt You

Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Benzene is formed from natural processes, such as volcanoes and forest fires, but most exposure to benzene results from human activities.

Benzene is among the 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States.

It is used mainly as a starting material in making other chemicals, including plastics, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

In the past it was also commonly used as an industrial solvent (a substance that can dissolve or extract other substances) and as a gasoline additive, but these uses have been greatly reduced in recent decades.

Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil and gasoline (and therefore motor vehicle exhaust), as well as cigarette smoke.

How are people exposed to benzene?

The main way people are exposed is by breathing in air containing benzene. Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin during contact with a source such as gasoline, but because liquid benzene evaporates quickly, this is less common.

People can be exposed to benzene:

  • At work
  • In the general environment
  • Through the use of some consumer products

The highest exposures have typically been in the workplace, although these have decreased greatly over the last several decades due to federal and state regulations. Some other exposures have also gone down over time, such as the amount of benzene allowed in gasoline.

Workplace exposures

Workers in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to this chemical. These include the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe manufacturers, and gasoline-related industries.

Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Other people who may be exposed to benzene at work include steel workers, printers, lab technicians, gas station employees, and firefighters.

Federal regulations limit exposure to benzene in the workplace (see below).

Community exposures

People can be exposed to benzene in the environment from gasoline fumes, automobile exhaust, emissions from some factories, and waste water from certain industries.

Benzene is commonly found in air in both urban and rural areas, but the levels are usually very low. Exposures can be higher for people in enclosed spaces with unventilated fumes from gasoline, glues, solvents, paints, and art supplies.

Areas of heavy traffic, gas stations, and areas near industrial sources may also have higher air levels.

Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke are important sources of exposure to benzene. Cigarette smoke accounts for about half of the exposure to benzene in the United States. Benzene levels in rooms containing tobacco smoke can be many times higher than normal.

People can also be exposed to benzene in contaminated drinking water and some foods (although the levels are usually very low).

Does benzene cause cancer?

Benzene is known to cause cancer, evidence from studies in both people and lab animals. The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and other cancers of blood cells.

What do studies show?

Researchers use 2 main types of studies to try to determine if a substance causes cancer.

  • Studies in people: One type of study looks at cancer rates in different groups of people. Such a study might compare the cancer rate in a group exposed to a substance to the cancer rate in a group not exposed to it, or compare it to the cancer rate in the general population. But sometimes it can be hard to know what the results of these studies mean, because many other factors might affect the results.
  • Lab studies: In studies done in the lab, animals are exposed to a substance (often in very large doses) to see if it causes tumors or other health problems. Researchers might also expose normal human cells in a lab dish to the substance to see if it causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells. It’s not always clear if the results from these types of studies will apply to humans, but lab studies are a good way to find out if a substance might possibly cause cancer.

Often neither type of study provides conclusive evidence on its own, so researchers usually look at both human and lab-based studies when trying to figure out if something causes cancer.

Studies in people

Rates of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), have been found to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries.

Some studies have also suggested links to childhood leukemia (particularly AML) as well as acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), and other blood-related cancers (such as multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) in adults. However, the evidence is not as strong for these cancers.

There is much less evidence linking benzene to any other type of cancer.

Studies done in the lab

When inhaled or swallowed, benzene has been found to cause different types of tumors in lab animals such as rats and mice. These results support the finding of an excess risk of leukemia in humans. However, most studies in humans have not found an increased risk of cancers other than leukemia among people with higher exposures.

Benzene has been shown to cause chromosome changes in bone marrow cells in the lab. (The bone marrow is where new blood cells are made.) Such changes are commonly found in human leukemia cells.

What expert agencies say

Several national and international agencies study substances in the environment to determine if they can cause cancer. (A substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow is called a carcinogen.) The American Cancer Society looks to these organizations to evaluate the risks evidence from laboratory, animal, and human research studies.

animal and human evidence, several expert agencies have evaluated the cancer-causing potential of benzene.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). One of its goals is to identify causes of cancer.

IARC classifies benzene as “carcinogenic to humans,” sufficient evidence that benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

IARC also notes that benzene exposure has been linked with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed from parts of several different US government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NTP has classified benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), an electronic database that contains information on human health effects from exposure to various substances in the environment. The EPA classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen.

(For more information on the classification systems used by these agencies, see Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.)

Does benzene cause any other health problems?

Benzene is a potentially dangerous chemical. High levels of exposure can cause both short-term and long-term health effects.

Short-term effects

Breathing in high doses of benzene can affect the nervous system, which can lead to drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion, and/or unconsciousness.

Consuming foods or fluids contaminated with high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, and rapid heart rate.

In extreme cases, inhaling or swallowing very high levels of benzene can be deadly.

Exposure to benzene liquid or vapor can irritate the skin, eyes, and throat. Skin exposure to benzene can result in redness and blisters.

Long-term effects

Long-term exposure to benzene mainly harms the bone marrow, the soft, inner parts of bones where new blood cells are made. This can result in:

  • Anemia (a low red blood cell count), which can cause a person to feel weak and tired.
  • A low white blood cell count, which can lower the body’s ability to fight infections and might even be life-threatening.
  • A low blood platelet count, which can lead to excess bruising and bleeding.

There is also some evidence that long-term exposure to benzene might harm reproductive organs. Some women who have breathed in high levels of benzene for many months have had irregular menstrual periods and ovary shrinkage, but it is not known for sure if benzene caused these effects. It is not known if benzene exposure affects the fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men.

Are benzene levels regulated?

Several government agencies regulate benzene levels and exposures.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency responsible for health and safety regulations in most workplaces.

OSHA limits exposure to benzene in the air in most workplaces to 1 ppm (part per million) during an average workday and a maximum of 5 ppm over any 15-minute period.

When working at potentially higher exposure levels, OSHA requires employers to provide personal protective equipment such as respirators.

The EPA limits the percentage of benzene allowed in gasoline to an average of 0.62% by volume (with a maximum of 1.3%).

The EPA limits concentrations of benzene in drinking water to 5 ppb (parts per billion). Some states may have lower limits. wise, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) considers any product containing 5% or more by weight of benzene to be hazardous, requiring special labeling.

Can I limit my exposure to benzene?

If you are concerned about benzene, there are several ways you can limit your exposure.

Stay away from cigarette smoke. If you are person who smokes, try to quit. Cigarette smoke is a major source of benzene exposure.

Try to limit gasoline fumes by pumping gas carefully and using gas stations with vapor recovery systems that capture the fumes. Avoid skin contact with gasoline.

When possible, limiting the time you spend near idling car engines can help lower your exposure to exhaust fumes, which contain benzene (as well as other potentially harmful chemicals).

Use common sense around any chemicals that might contain benzene. Limit or avoid exposure to fumes from solvents, paints, and art supplies, especially in unventilated spaces.

If you are exposed at your workplace, talk to your employer about limiting your exposure through process changes (such as replacing the benzene with another solvent or enclosing the benzene source) or by using personal protective equipment. If needed, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) can provide more information or make an inspection.

What should I do if I’ve been exposed to benzene?

For short-term exposure to high levels of benzene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting away from the source of benzene, removing any clothing that may have benzene on it, washing exposed areas with soap and water, and getting medical care as soon as possible.

If you think you may have been exposed to benzene over a long period of time, speak to a doctor. Benzene can be measured in the blood or breath, and breakdown products of benzene can be measured in the urine. These tests can only detect recent exposures to benzene. They cannot predict possible health effects.


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