Benzene

What is Benzene?

Benzene (chemical formula: C6H6), is a highly flammable liquid that is clear in colour with a characteristic aromatic odour. It mixes with alcohol, chloroform, ether, acetone among others. Benzene floats on water.  

What is Benzene used for?

Benzene is mainly used as an ingredient to manufacture other chemicals that ultimately become precursors to products such as styrenes, dyes, rubbers, lubricants, explosives, pesticides and detergents. Benzene has also been used in; petrols, synthetic leathers, linoleum, oil cloth, lacquers and solvents for waxes to name a few. Benzene is a high toxic poison and handling procedures and control measures should be considered prior to it being used in plant operations. 

Over half of the world’s benzene is turned into a precursor for styrene products
Over half of the world’s benzene is turned into a precursor for styrene products

Benzene Hazards

The routes of exposure for benzene include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact. 

Inhalation of benzene can cause very serious irreversible damage following a single exposure. Symptoms include; coughing, drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, delirium, paralysis, confusion, nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache, anorexia, narcosis, reduced alertness, loss of reflexes, lack of coordination and vertigo. Small amounts absorbed through the lungs can be fatal, while exposure to toxic levels can cause chromosomal damage. 

Strong evidence suggests ingestion can cause very serious irreversible damage following a single exposure. Swallowing benzene can cause aspiration of vomit into the lungs with the risk of haemorrhaging, excess fluid in the lungs as well as the risk of the condition progressing to chemical pneumonitis. Symptoms of chemical aspiration include; coughing, gasping, choking, burning of the mouth, difficulty breathing and bluish coloured skin. Ingestion of less than 150 grams is expected to be the lethal human dose of benzene. 

When exposed to skin, benzene produces moderate skin irritation, inflammation, redness, swelling, blistering and scaling. Repeated or prolonged exposure can cause the skin to crack or flake due to excessive dryness as a result of handling. Following skin absorption, symptoms will be the same as those evident with inhalation. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds may lead to other harmful effects.  

Eye exposure to benzene may cause severe irritation, inflammation, redness and ocular lesions based on animal experiments. Permanent vision impairment may result unless adequate treatment is promptly applied. 

Benzene Safety

If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Lay the patient down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device. Transport to hospital without delay. 

If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. If vomiting does occur, lean the patient forward or on their left side to prevent aspiration. Observe the patient and provide liquid slowly. Avoid giving milk, oils and alcohol to the patient. Seek medical advice. 

If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and flush the affected area with plenty of running water. Transport to hospital. 

If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Transport to hospital without delay. 

Benzene Safety Handling

Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical. There should always be adequate ventilation to remove or dilute any air contaminants (install local exhaust if necessary). 

The PPE recommended when handling benzene includes; safety glasses with unperforated side shields, chemical goggles, gas masks, elbow length PVC gloves, PVC aprons, PVC protective suits, overalls and safety boots. Some PPE is not recommended as they may produce static electricity. 

Benzene is a dangerous poison that will cause harm when improper handling practices are followed. Always refer to your SDS for more information on how to properly handle your chemicals. Click here for a trial of our SDS Management Software or contact us at sales@chemwatch.net for more information about our chemicals management solutions.