Benzene a "hot" harmful substance
Benzene is of special significance for the environment, because this compound is carcinogenic and damaging to the central nervous system. Higher concentrations can lead to unconsciousness and respiratory paralysis and can be damaging to health even in low concentrations.
A variety of products from plastics and resins to pesticides and paints derives from benzene. Furthermore, it is also an important component of petrol. Thus, there are many sources of pollution. Benzene can penetrate into the environment as a result of chemical accidents and is also found in the areas surrounding oil refineries and tank storage facilities, petrol stations and well-travelled roads. Consequently, for many years researchers from the UFZ have been investigating the possibilities for the remediation of such impacted areas. This is also of interest for other areas. "In Germany, to be sure, for many years the problems caused by this harmful substance have been declining", says Martin von Bergen, Head of the Proteomics Department at the UFZ. Nevertheless, this in no way applies for other countries, as this expert is aware: "In China, for example, pollution is increasing dramatically". Thus, in November 2005 around 100 tonnes of benzene flowed into the Songhua River, following an accident in a chemical plant. This resulted in a toxic plume 80 kilometres long and reached the city of Harbin, with a population of several million, making the interruption of the supply of drinking water to the city necessary.
Nevertheless, bacteria exist which can degrade such pollution again. Provided that there is a sufficient supply of oxygen, this takes place relatively quickly. However, when the substance seeps into the ground it soon reaches regions with only little oxygen or none at all. "And no one knows exactly what h
|Contact: Tilo Arnhold|
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres