Benzene

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In 2005 to 2006, the blood (lipid-adjusted) concentration of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older was 0.3 ng/mL.

Summary graph for Benzene, Click to see detailed view of graph

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Introduction

Benzene is an organic chemical that is colorless and has a sweet odor. It is highly flammable, and evaporates quickly when exposed to air. Benzene is formed through natural processes, such as volcanoes and forest fires, and is present in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. Most exposure to benzene results from human activities. Benzene use in materials and to adjust fuel octane levels has been minimized, resulting in reduced benzene exposure among non-smokers. Cigarette smoking has been shown to be the primary exposure source of benzene blood levels in the U.S., with some benzene exposure in non-smokers attributable to secondhand smoke exposure.The chemical also is widely used as a component of plastics, rubber, resins, and synthetic fabrics, as well as an additive in motor fuels and as a solvent in printing, paints, and dry cleaning, and for other purposes. Benzene is also used in the manufacture of detergents, explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyestuffs.

Benzene is known to cause cancer and has toxic effects on the blood and the bone marrow (the soft, inner parts of bones where new blood cells are made). The link between benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and cancers of other blood cells.

The main way people are exposed is by breathing in air containing benzene—in emissions from burning coal and oil, motor vehicle exhaust, and evaporation from gasoline service stations and in industrial solvents. It is estimated that about half of the exposure to benzene in the United States results from smoking tobacco or from exposure to tobacco smoke. It can also be absorbed through the skin during contact with a source such as gasoline, but because liquid benzene evaporates quickly, this is less common.

Examination of benzene is new to the Cancer Trends Progress Report this year.

Measure

We present exposure data on the 95th percentile of the population, representing people with the greatest exposure. The 95th percentile level means that 95% of the population has concentrations below that level. Public health officials use such reference values to determine whether groups of people are experiencing an exposure that is unusual compared with an exposure experienced by the rest of the population. [Citation]

To calculate whether the differences between 95th percentiles for two different time points is statistically significant, we used a different statistical methodology than that used by the National Center for Environmental Health, who publishes the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals from where our data are derived. Our estimates may differ slightly from those in the original report due to differences in statistical procedures used. [Methodology]

Healthy People 2020 Target

There are no Healthy People 2020 targets regarding benzene.

Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Data Source

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Trends and Most Recent EstimatesHelp with navigating the graphs and data tables

By Sex

95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by sex, 2001-2006
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2005 to 2006)
Nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by sex, 2001-2006 Both SexesClick to see the detailed trend graph for Both Sexes 0.33 (0.30 - 0.36)
MaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Male 0.35 (0.30 - 0.40)
FemaleClick to see the detailed trend graph for Female 0.31 (0.26 - 0.36)

By Race/Ethnicity

95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2001-2006
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2005 to 2006)
Nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by race/ethnicity, 2001-2006 All RacesClick to see the detailed trend graph for All Races 0.33 (0.30 - 0.36)
Non-Hispanic WhiteClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic White 0.36 (0.31 - 0.39)
Non-Hispanic BlackClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Hispanic Black 0.31 (0.22 - 0.41)
HispanicClick to see the detailed trend graph for Hispanic 0.09 (0.08 - 0.14)

By Poverty Income Level

95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by poverty income level, 2001-2006
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2005 to 2006)
Nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by poverty income level, 2001-2006 < 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for < 200% of the federal poverty level 0.38 (0.33 - 0.45)
>= 200% of the federal poverty levelClick to see the detailed trend graph for >= 200% of the federal poverty level 0.30 (0.26 - 0.33)

By Education Level

95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2001-2006
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2005 to 2006)
Nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by highest level of education obtained, 2001-2006 Less than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Less than High School 0.33 (0.29 - 0.38)
High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for High School 0.39 (0.31 - 0.55)
Greater than High SchoolClick to see the detailed trend graph for Greater than High School 0.30 (0.25 - 0.34)

By Smoking Status

95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by smoking status, 2001-2006
Overview Graph Detailed Trend Graphs Most Recent Estimates (2005 to 2006)
Nanogram/milliliter (ng/mL) 95% Confidence Interval
Thumbnail of graph for 95th percentile for blood concentrations (ng/mL) of benzene among persons aged 20 years and older by smoking status, 2001-2006 Non-SmokerClick to see the detailed trend graph for Non-Smoker 0.08 (0.07 - 0.10)
SmokerClick to see the detailed trend graph for Smoker 0.56 (0.47 - 0.66)

Additional Information on Benzene

For the public

Scientific reports

Year Range

2001-2006

Recent Summary Trend Year Range

2001-2006

Summary Tables

Chemical Exposures

Recent Summary Trend

Non-Significant Change

Desired Direction

Falling