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What to Do If You Are Exposed to Benzene

Benzene is one of the most common dangerous substances humans encounter on a regular basis. The colorless and highly evaporative chemical comes from petroleum and poses serious health risks. While some exposure to the chemical is unavoidable in daily life, concentrated or prolonged exposure will lead to adverse health conditions.

What is Benzene?

This sweet-smelling hydrocarbon exists in both liquid and gaseous states. It’s highly flammable and evaporative. Trace amounts are in the natural environment and some foods. You will find the chemical in cigarette smoke, gasoline, exhaust, and in forest fires. In industrial environments, companies also use the chemical to manufacture everything from plastic products to insecticides.

When a human encounters the gaseous form of benzene, half of it goes back into the environment upon exhalation. The body stores the other half in fat and bone marrow until the body can break it down. During metabolism of the chemical, the body creates byproducts that are more dangerous than benzene itself.

Exposure to Benzene

In daily life, you are not likely to come into dangerous concentrations of benzene. Those who work in petroleum product rich manufacturing environments, who smoke heavily, and who are exposed to gas leaks may suffer the most from the chemical’s ill effects. Benzene can enter the body through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion. The amount of benzene absorbed into the body will affect the severity of symptoms a person experiences.

Long-term benzene exposure can cause cancer, immune system damage, and neurological damage. It poses a heightened risk to children and expectant women. Concentrated benzene exposure can cause blurred vision, nausea, heartbeat irregularities, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, breathing difficulties, confusion, sleepiness, unconsciousness, and death within minutes or hours.

What to Do After Exposure

If you have reason to believe you encountered benzene in any form, take the following steps immediately:

  • Access fresh air. Limit the amount of benzene you breathe in the surrounding air. Although you cannot see the chemical in its gaseous form, move outdoors or into a well-ventilated area. If you can still smell a sweet odor, you may want to move farther away from the source of the gas.
  • Remove contaminated clothing. Wear gloves and quickly remove clothing while trying to minimize skin exposure during the process. Place contaminated clothing in a sealable plastic bag and seal anything that encountered benzene in additional bags. Since the liquid can evaporate very quickly, anyone exposed should take steps to completely remove all affected materials.
  • Shower well. Remove any contact lenses and secure in a plastic bag. Bathe every inch of skin using ample amounts of soap. Rinse well. If the chemical entered the eyes, rinse with water for 10-15 minutes.
  • Contact the authorities. Contact emergency services, poison control, or your local health department to ask for further instructions and discuss the benzene exposure situation. If someone ingested any benzene, do not wait to go through the previous steps. Call emergency services immediately and listen closely for further instructions. Never induce vomiting after benzene exposure – the resulting coughing could increase the amount of chemical exposure in the lungs.

Report the incident and seek medical attention even if you believe you removed all the contaminated clothing and successfully rinsed the chemical from your body. The colorless chemical could affect you more than you know.

There is no targeted antidote for benzene poisoning. Medical treatments vary depending on the nature of the exposure and the symptoms a patient experiences.

After Benzene Exposure

Concentrated benzene exposure rarely happens without some form of human negligence. Gas leaks, industrial chemical exposure, and water contamination almost always occur because someone failed to use an appropriate level of care while handling this highly toxic substance.

If you or someone you know suffered acute or long-term effects from benzene toxicity, you may want to discuss legal options with a personal injury attorney. The World Health Organization considers benzene a significant public health concern, and nobody should have to suffer from the chemical’s after-effects.

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