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 is widely used as a component of plastics, rubber, resins, and synthetic fabrics; an additive in motor fuels; 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 has been identified as a cause of acute non-lymphocytic leukemia, including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in adults. An article published in The Lancet Oncology, provides evidence that benzene might be related to other myeloid and certain lymphoid malignancies.

The main way people are exposed is by breathing in air containing benzene—in emissions from burning coal and oil, motor vehicle exhaust, evaporation from gasoline tanks and 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.

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. For more information, see the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

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

The Cancer Trends Progress Report uses NHANES data through 2017-2018. The 2019-2020 cycle was not completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available at NHANES Questionnaires, Datasets, and Related Documentation.

There are no Healthy People 2030 targets regarding blood concentration of benzene.

Healthy People 2030 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Non-Significant Change
Chemical Exposures