|Did You Know?
The leading producers of benzene in the world are the United States, Europe, Canada, and Japan.
Benzene is a colorless liquid, with a sweet odor. It is a chemical compound that evaporates quickly in air, but dissolves sparingly in water. It is a natural component in gas emissions from forest and volcanic fires, and is also a natural part of cigarette smoke, gasoline, and crude oil.
In fact, our environment is contaminated with benzene from tobacco smoke, smoke emitted by automobiles, etc. Today, benzene is mostly prepared from petroleum. The chemical formula of benzene is C6H6, wherein the 6 carbon and hydrogen atoms are arranged in a hexagonal ring, with alternating single and double bonds. Let's take a look at its uses.
Various Uses of Benzene
As a Solvent
Benzene is an essential ingredient in sealers, stains, lacquers, paints, etc. It is also used as a solvent for resins, oils, plastics, paints, fats, and rubber. Tire and rubber manufacturers use it as a solvent in various steps of production. The ink used in the print industry also contains benzene, moreover, the printing equipment is cleaned and maintained by products containing this chemical compound. The paint industry also relies on benzene to keep their paints and sprays in the liquid form.
As an Intermediate
One of the most common uses of benzene is in the production of other chemical compounds, such as nylon, resins, plastics, synthetic fibers, dyes, rubbers, pesticides, detergents, drugs, etc. It is used in the production of styrene (plastic), cumene (resins), and cyclohexane (nylon and synthetic fibers). Thus, benzene exists in all the plastic items we come in contact with on a daily basis.
Several European manufacturers have been using benzene as a gasoline additive, due to its high octane number. Besides being added to gasoline, benzene is also naturally present in gasoline, since it naturally occurs in crude oil.
Negative Effects of Benzene
Researchers have revealed that benzene is a carcinogenic compound, and people who have been exposed to it for more than five years, are at a higher risk of developing leukemia. Almost 3,00,000 people are exposed to benzene in the workplace every year. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has set certain guidelines, according to which the maximum level of benzene exposure has to be restricted to 'one part per million in the workplace during an eight hour day, and five parts per million in a fifteen minute period.' Benzene exposure has also been linked to a serious blood disease, called aplastic anemia. Inhalation of this chemical compound by pregnant mothers is seen to cause birth defects, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, etc.
Despite the plethora of ways this compound can be used, we must try to reduce our dependence on it. Today, toluene is being used to replace benzene wherever possible.