An overview of occupational benzene exposures and occupational exposure limits in Europe and North America.
Chem Biol Interact. 2005 May 30;153-154:43-53. Epub 2005 Apr 18. PMID: 15935799
Toxicology and Risk Assessment Group, MRC Institute for Environment and Health, 94 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7DD, UK.
Benzene has become one of the most intensely regulated substances in the world. Its ubiquitous use as a solvent has led to many working populations being exposed; in the early days often in uncontrolled conditions, leading to high exposures. Current occupational exposures are tightly controlled and are largely confined to workers in the petrochemical industry, vehicle mechanics, firefighters, workers exposed to automobile emissions, and some other occupational groups. Typically, occupational exposure levels are currently at or below 3.25 mg/m3 (1 ppm), and environmental exposures are typically below 50 microg/m3 (15 ppb). Smoking remains a significant source of exposure in both occupationally and non-occupationally exposed individuals. The early experiences of high occupational exposures led to the identification of haematopoietic effects of benzene and the need for improved control and regulation. As with most occupational standards, there has been a reduction in exposure limits as effects have been identified at ever-lower levels, accompanied by a societal concern for improved standards of occupational health. In 1946, the United States occupational exposure limit for benzene, promulgated by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, was 325 mg/m3 (100 ppm), but nowadays most European and North American countries have harmonised at 1.63-3.25mg/m3 (0.5-1 ppm). This latter figure was agreed within the European Union in 1997 and was adopted within national legislation by all Member States. The data on which this limit is set are essentially the same as those used by other standard-setting committees; this is an excellent example of how standards are set using science, pragmatism and societal values in the absence of complete information.