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Benzene belongs to a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate into the air easily. Benzene is produced from coal and petroleum sources. It is one of the most commonly made chemicals in the United States, and it is used to produce many other chemicals. Most people are exposed to benzene mainly from gasoline fumes, automobile emissions, and cigarette smoke.

The Tracking Network includes biomonitoring data on the concentration of benzene in blood in NHANES participants ages 12 years and older. Levels of benzene in blood reflect recent exposure. Finding a measurable amount of benzene in blood does not mean that the level of benzene causes a health effect.

Exposure and Risk

People are exposed to benzene by breathing it in the air. About half of the benzene exposure in the United States most likely comes from smoking tobacco or secondhand tobacco smoke. Other ways benzene can get into the air include vehicle emissions, gasoline and asphalt vapors, and forest fires.

A man at a gasoline pump.

People who come in contact with petroleum products, like gasoline, are exposed to benzene by breathing fumes or skin contact.

Low levels of exposure can occur if benzene-contaminated water vapor is inhaled during bathing, showering, or cooking. Benzene can get into the body through contaminated food, drinking water, or other drinks.

Breathing large amounts of benzene can cause difficulty in thinking, changes in heart function, unconsciousness, or death. In smaller amounts over years, benzene can cause fewer new blood cells to form. Benzene is considered a cancer-causing chemical.

Read about prevention tips to reduce your and your family's exposure to environmental chemicals.

More Information

In addition to biomonitoring data on benzene, the Tracking Network has information and data about benzene in drinking water.


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