Benzene is a clear, flammable liquid that is used to make a lot of things, like plastic, rubber, and synthetic fibers.
But did you know that it can also be found in the air we breathe as a volatile organic compound (VOC)? If you have an air purifier or are thinking about getting one, it’s important to know about benzene and how it can hurt your health.
In this article, I’ll talk about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and how benzene affects the air quality inside our homes.
So buckle up and get ready to find out why benzene is a VOC that you can’t afford to ignore.
Benzene and its effects on human health
Benzene is a sweet-smelling liquid that is clear and very flammable.
It is a chemical compound that has the formula C6H6 for its molecules.
One of the most basic petrochemicals is benzene, which is a natural part of petroleum.
It is made by both natural processes and things that people do.
Sources of Benzene
Volcanoes, forest fires, crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke are all natural places where benzene can be found.
In the United States, benzene is used a lot and is one of the 20 most-made chemicals.
Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, nylon, synthetic fibers, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
Exposure to Benzene
Benzene is very dangerous and is known to cause cancer.
Exposure to it may cause leukemia.
As a result, there are strict controls on benzene emissions.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), exposure to benzene occurs in the outdoor environment, in the workplace, and in the home.
Most people are exposed to benzene through the air outside.
The air contains low levels of benzene from coal and oil burning, benzene waste and storage operations, vehicle exhaust, and gasoline service station evaporation.
Another way that benzene gets into the air, especially for people who smoke, is through tobacco smoke.
Health Effects of Benzene
Benzene is a very dangerous chemical that can hurt people if they eat, touch, or breathe it.
People who work in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the most of it.
Tobacco smoke is one of the main ways people are exposed to benzene.
Benzene works by causing cells not to work correctly, and it can cause bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, leading to anemia.
It can also damage the immune system by changing blood levels of antibodies and causing the loss of white blood cells.
If you get benzene in your eyes, on your skin, or in your lungs, it can hurt or irritate the tissues.
Long-term exposure to benzene hurts the soft, inner parts of bones, called bone marrow, where new blood cells are made.
This can cause a low number of red blood cells, which can make a person feel weak and tired.
It can also cause a low number of white blood cells, which can make it harder for the body to fight infections and could even be life-threatening, and a low number of blood platelets, which can make a person bruise more easily.
Some evidence also suggests that being around benzene for a long time could hurt the reproductive organs.
Some women who have breathed in a lot of benzene for a long time have had irregular periods and their ovaries have shrunk, but it’s not clear if the benzene is to blame.
Benzene is one of the substances that the Environmental Protection Agency calls a “known human carcinogen”.
That means that it can cause cancer in people.
Scientists think that high levels of benzene can cause leukemia and possibly other cancers that affect the blood.
Symptoms of Benzene Exposure
If you breathe in a lot of benzene, it can affect your nervous system and make you sleepy, dizzy, have headaches, tremors, get confused, or even pass out.
If you eat or drink something that has a lot of benzene in it, you might get sick, have stomach pain, feel dizzy, or fall asleep.
Studies with pregnant animals have shown that breathing in benzene is bad for the developing fetus.
It can cause the baby to be born with a low birth weight, bones to form slowly, and damage to the bone marrow.
The Relevance of Chemical Pollutants in Air Purification: Focus on Benzene
Chemical pollutants are a major concern when it comes to air purification, and benzene is one of the most common and dangerous of these pollutants.
Benzene is a colorless, highly flammable liquid that is widely used in the production of plastics, synthetic fibers, rubber, and other materials.
It is also a component of gasoline and other fuels.
Exposure to benzene can cause a range of health problems, including cancer, leukemia, and other blood disorders.
Air purifiers are an effective way to remove benzene and other chemical pollutants from indoor air, helping to protect the health of those who live and work in these environments.
By understanding the risks associated with chemical pollutants like benzene, we can take steps to improve the quality of the air we breathe.
For more information:
Sources of benzene in indoor air and ways to remove it
Sources of Benzene in Indoor and Outdoor Air
Benzene is a volatile organic compound that can be found in both the air inside and outside.
It is usually found in gasoline and is made from coal and oil.
Indoor concentrations of benzene are typically higher than those in outdoor air due to the entry and accumulation of benzene from outdoor sources and the presence of dominant benzene sources indoors.
Indoor Sources of Benzene
Most of the benzene inside your home comes from materials used in building, remodeling, and decorating.
Some furniture and polymeric materials, like vinyl, PVC, and rubber floors, as well as nylon and SBR-latex-backed carpets, may have small amounts of benzene in them.
Indoor air also has benzene in it because glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents all have benzene in them.
The main source of benzene in indoor air is tobacco smoke, and when there is tobacco smoke in the air, the amount of benzene in the air goes up.
Outdoor Sources of Benzene
There are small amounts of benzene in the air outside, which come from tobacco smoke, gas stations, car exhaust, and factories.
There can be more benzene in the air near hazardous waste sites or gas stations than in other places.
Benzene can get into well water if it leaks from underground storage tanks or places where hazardous waste is kept.
Removing Benzene from Indoor Air
There are a number of ways to get rid of benzene from the air inside.
Using air filters with activated charcoal can get rid of benzene and other VOCs.
Use high-quality air purifiers that are made to get rid of VOCs like formaldehyde from indoor air is another way.
The earth mineral technology used to make the EnviroKlenz HVAC filters is protected by a patent.
This technology captures and destroys harmful compounds that usually get past other filters.
Phytoremediation, which uses plants to remove toxins from the air, has also been suggested as a quick and cheap way to improve the quality of the air inside.
Some decorative plants, like the Peace Lily, the Spider Plant, and the Golden Pothos, have been shown to remove benzene from the air in a room.
Consumer-grade air cleaners that use chemical oxidation to reduce the amount of VOCs in the air can be a source of VOCs themselves.
Most consumer-grade air cleaners have filters or sorbent materials that can physically trap VOCs.
However, some products also offer chemical ways to destroy VOCs, such as photocatalytic oxidation or ionization using ultraviolet light, plasma technology, or carbon-titanium-dioxide filters.
But these methods might not work to get rid of benzene in the air inside.
Exposure to Benzene
If someone is exposed to benzene, they should wash any of it off their skin as soon as possible with a lot of soap and water.
If their eyes hurt or they can’t see well, they should rinse them for 10 to 15 minutes with plain water.
If the benzene was let out into the air, they should leave the area where the benzene was let out to get some fresh air.
If the benzene leak was inside the building, they should leave.
Understanding HEPA filters and their effectiveness in removing benzene
Understanding HEPA Filters
HEPA filters are a type of air filter that can get rid of at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other airborne particles bigger than 0.3 microns.
High-efficiency particulate air filter is what “HEPA” stands for.
Either plastic (PP+PET) or fiberglass is used to make HEPA filters.
They are made of a mat of randomly arranged fibers that can catch things like pollen, viruses, bacteria, mold, and PM2.5.
How HEPA Filters Work
HEPA filters work in three ways: by diffusion, by catching particles, and by squeezing them together.
When gas molecules smaller than 0.1 microns bump into each other, they slow down and take longer to pass through the filter.
This is called diffusion.
Interception happens when airborne particles stick to a fiber.
Impact is when bigger air particles get stuck right in the fibers.
Benefits of HEPA Filters
HEPA filters are much better for your health than regular filters because they can stop mold spores, bacteria, and even some viruses.
They help clean the air and make it better by getting rid of allergens and microbes.
Most air purifiers, vacuum cleaners, and HVAC systems have HEPA filters.
To make sure the filter works well, it’s important to follow the maintenance and replacement instructions from the manufacturer.
Limitations of HEPA Filters
HEPA filters alone cannot remove benzene from indoor air because they are designed to remove particulate contaminants and are ineffective at removing gases or chemicals like benzene.
Activated Charcoal Filters for VOCs
But air purifiers with filters made of activated charcoal can remove benzene gas and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air inside.
Activated charcoal filters can get rid of benzene because the gas sticks to the surface of the charcoal, which traps it in the filter.
Choosing an Effective Air Purifier
It’s important to keep in mind that not all air purifiers can get rid of VOCs.
Researchers at MIT found that some consumer-grade portable air cleaners that claim to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from indoor air may only remove a small amount of VOCs or may even add more pollutants to the air.
So, it’s important to choose an air purifier with an activated charcoal filter that has been tested and shown to remove benzene and other VOCs from indoor air.
Other types of air filters that can remove benzene and their maintenance
Activated Charcoal Filters
Benzene gas and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be taken out of the air inside with the help of air purifiers with activated charcoal filters.
These filters use a bed of activated carbon to pull benzene and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out of the air.
However, it is important to note that these filters cannot remove tiny airborne particles like mold, dust, or pollen.
HVAC Air Filters
There are also HVAC air filters that can get rid of VOCs, bad smells, and dust from the air inside.
For example, the EnviroKlenz air filter/cartridge is made to get rid of and neutralize VOCs and toxic vapors in indoor air.
The filters are made with patented earth mineral technology that catches and destroys harmful compounds that usually get past normal filters.
VOCs can also be removed from indoor air with the help of plants.
For instance, the bamboo palm is good at getting rid of formaldehyde, and the Hedera helix is good at getting rid of benzene.
Air purifiers use HEPA filters to catch small particles like dust, pollen, and pet hair.
How long a HEPA filter lasts depends on the type of filter, the air quality, and the environment.
As a general rule, HEPA filters that can be changed should be changed every 6 to 12 months.
However, some filters may last longer or shorter, depending on how often they are used.
Smart Air Filters says that the Sqair HEPA filter should be changed every 1400 hours, which is about 6 months if the Sqair runs for 8 hours a day on high.
Air purifiers may have HEPA filters and carbon pre-filters that need to be changed every 3 months.
Permanent filters don’t need to be changed, but they should be cleaned every so often to get rid of any dust that has built up.
Why Regular Filter Changes are Important
Air purifier filters need to be changed often because over time, the particles that get caught in the filter can build up and make the air purifier less effective.
HEPA filters are some of the best air filters on the market because they can catch 99.97% of the smallest particles.
They are made of strands of fiberglass that are tightly wound and woven together.
This makes a maze that even the smallest particles can’t get through.
Every six months, or twice a year, HEPA filters should be changed.
Additional steps to reduce benzene exposure in the home
Benzene is a chemical that can cause cancer and is used a lot in the United States.
It is used to make plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, medicines, and pesticides.
Benzene gets into the air when people smoke, when cars pollute, and when coal and oil are burned.
People are mostly exposed to benzene by breathing in benzene-filled air, but they can also get it through their skin when they touch something like gasoline.
Sources of Benzene Exposure
People should be aware of the many ways they can be exposed to benzene. These things are:
- Tobacco Smoke: Tobacco smoke, including passive smoke, is one of the major sources of benzene exposure. Avoiding tobacco smoke can help reduce benzene exposure.
- Gasoline: Limit exposure to gasoline by using gas stations with vapor recovery systems, avoiding getting gasoline on your skin or clothes, and not leaving your car idling.
- Indoor Environments: Keep indoor environments ventilated to reduce exposure to benzene from products like glues, paints, furniture wax, detergents, and certain drugs.
- Environmental Sources: Be aware of other environmental sources of benzene, such as hazardous waste sites and underground storage tanks that can contaminate well water.
- Workplaces: If you work around benzene, use personal protective equipment such as protective clothing and masks, or talk to your employer about switching to non-benzene solvents or other chemicals if possible.
Effects of Benzene Exposure
Being around benzene can hurt your health in a lot of ways.
High levels of benzene can make you sleepy, dizzy, have headaches, tremors, feel confused, or even knock you out.
Leukemia and other cancers of the blood can be caused by long-term exposure to benzene.
Exposure to benzene can also cause anemia, damage to the immune system, and problems with reproduction.
Benzene in Personal Care Products
Benzene has been found in many popular personal care products in the US, such as hand sanitizers, sunscreens, deodorants, dry shampoos, conditioners, antiperspirants, body sprays, and anti-fungal treatments.
Most of the time, the contamination has been found in aerosol or spray products, sometimes at levels that are higher than what the FDA considers safe.
Valisure, an independent lab, did tests on 108 products from 30 different brands and found that nearly half of them contained benzene.
In the past few months, a number of big brands have voluntarily recalled dozens of products.
Other Sources of Benzene Exposure
Some glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents also have benzene in them.
There may be more benzene in the air in places with a lot of traffic, gas stations, and industrial sources.
This chemical can get into the bodies of people who work in industries that make or use benzene, such as the rubber industry, oil refineries, chemical plants, shoe factories, and industries that deal with gasoline.
Also, steel workers, printers, lab technicians, gas station workers, and firefighters may be exposed to benzene at work.
To sum up, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your exposure to benzene in your home.
You can avoid tobacco smoke, limit your exposure to gasoline, keep your home well-ventilated, be aware of other sources of benzene in the environment, and wear protective gear if you work with benzene.
If you think you might have been exposed to benzene, take off your clothes and wash your whole body as soon as possible with soap and water.
It is important to know where benzene comes from and what you can do to stay away from this highly carcinogenic chemical.
In the end, benzene is a harmful VOC that can be found in many household items and products.
It’s important to know about the possible risks and take steps to limit exposure, like using air purifiers and not smoking indoors.
But it’s also important to think about the bigger picture of pollution in the environment and how it affects our health and well-being.
We can work toward a cleaner and safer world for ourselves and future generations by making conscious choices and pushing for change.
So, if you have an air purifier or are thinking about getting one, remember that it is just one small step toward making the world healthier and more sustainable.
Links and references
- “Benzene” (part of the IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans series) on NCBI Bookshelf.
My article on the topic: