Everyone is exposed to small amounts of benzene on a daily basis, both indoors and outdoors. In addition to tobacco smoke, the air around petrol stations and exhaust fumes from motor vehicles and factories are major sources of exposure to benzene. Fumes and gasses released from products such as glue, paint and solvents contain benzene as well. Exposure is highest in factories where benzene is produced or used.
Benzene in tobacco smoke
For smokers, tobacco smoke is the most important source of exposure to benzene. It is released in the smoke when tobacco is burned. Non-smokers are also exposed to tobacco smoke when they inhale smoke passively. Everyone is exposed to a small amount of benzene on a daily basis. A typical smoker inhales an average of ten times more benzene per day than a non-smoker.
Adverse health effects
Benzene is a carcinogenic substance. It has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 1). Long-term exposure to benzene can cause acute myeloid leukaemia, which is the most common form of acute leukaemia in adults.