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The Multi-Faceted Chemical Benzene

Benzene is the 17th most abundantly produced chemical in the United States. It is obtained primarily from crude petroleum. It is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature//. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable. It is formed from both natural processes and human activities. Benzene is also manufactured from the low-boiling fractions of the coal-tar distillate. It is of exceptional importance commercially on account of the many valuable compounds derivable from it. Benzene is used mainly as a raw material for synthesizing chemicals such as styrene, phenol, and cyclohexane and for manufacturing dyes, detergents, explosives, rubber, plastics, and pharmaceuticals.

Benzene is mildly irritating to the skin, eyes, respiratory tract and can cause central nervous system depression and arrhythmias to persons acutely exposed. Benzene damages the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and depress the immune system, increasing the chance of infection. Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. Benzene toxicity in large part is due to generation of oxygen radicals. The US Department of Health And Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene is a known human carcinogen.

Hematologic neoplasms such as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) have been documented to occur with chronic exposures to as low as 10 ppm benzene. Other neoplasms have been documented in animal models. It has been shown to cross the placenta in humans and is fetotoxic in animals. Recently Benzene was in the news for all the wrong reasons.

When tested many brands of soft drinks were found to have unacceptably high levels of benzene. As the issue of benzene in soft drinks heats up, several developments have occurred on both sides of the Atlantic. While the revelations have seemed to prompt remedial
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