In a study published by the British Journal of Cancer, researchers assessed the risk of developing lymphohematopoietic cancers (leukemias or lymphomas) in 25,000 offshore oil industry workers occupationally exposed to low levels of benzene. Many reports have suggested that benzene is toxic to the blood and may lead to blood cancers at low concentrations, from .2 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm.
The results of the study supports the association between low-level benzene exposure and the risk of myeloid leukaemia (AML), multiple myeloma (MM) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Researchers note, “There was evidence of a dose-related risk pattern according to exposure intensity and cumulative exposure for AML, for MM, and suggestively for CLL.”
Benzene is a key ingredient in gasoline and in years past has been used as a solvent to clean grease-caked tools and hands. Cancer.org describes benzene as a “colorless, flammable liquid with a sweet odor” and lists it in the top 20 chemicals most widely used in the U.S. It is a starting chemical in the process of making plastics, lubricants and rubbers. It is even part of the process in making dyes, detergents, pesticides and prescription drugs. It can be found in car exhaust, cigarettes, and was recently confirmed to be contained in the water pipes of hookahs.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Toxicology Program (NTP) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (part of the World Health Organization) has declared benzene as “carcinogenic to humans.”
Fortunately, there are government agencies that regulate benzene levels and exposures. The EPA sets the limits allowed in gasoline at an average of 0.62 percent by volume, and limits the chemical in drinking water to 5 parts per billion (ppb). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets a limit of 5 ppb in bottled water, and The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requires special labeling for any product that contains 5 percent or more of the chemical.