Signs of Benzene Exposure

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. Like 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.

Like 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.

Signs of Benzene Exposure

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 likely 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.