The leading producers of benzene worldwide are the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan. Benzene production ranks in the top 20 chemicals in volume production in the United States of America. This chemical compound was first discovered and isolated from coal tar by the English scientist Michael Faraday in 1825. Moreover, it was named benzene by the German chemist, A.W. von Hofmann. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, benzene's pleasant odor caused it to be used as an aftershave. Moreover, in the early 1900s, benzene was used by a German importer Lugwig Roselius to decaffeinate coffee. It was also used as an industrial solvent for degreasing metal. However, benzene toxicity was brought to light which is why other solvents were used to replace benzene that involved direct exposure to the user. So what is benzene used for today? However, before we head into today's benzene uses, let us have a quick look at what benzene actually is!
What is Benzene
Benzene a colorless liquid with sweet odor is a chemical compound that evaporates quickly in air and dissolves sparingly in water. Natural components of gas emissions from forest and volcanic fires, this flammable substance is also a natural part of cigarette smoke, gasoline and crude oil. 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. The environment is contaminated with benzene from tobacco smoke, smoke emitted by automobiles, etc.
As a Solvent
Benzene was used as a solvent for resins, oils, plastics, paints, fats and rubber. Tire and rubber manufacturers use benzene as solvents in various steps of production. The ink used in the print industry also contains benzene and the printing equipments are cleaned and maintained by products containing benzene. The paint industry also relies on benzene to keep the paints and sprays in liquid form till their final application. Benzene is an essential ingredient in sealers, stains, lacquers and base and top coat paints.
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 and lubricants by using it for 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. This way the engine efficiency can be increased and starting qualities are also improved. Besides being added to gasoline, benzene is also naturally present in gasoline, since it naturally occurs in crude oil.
Negative Effects of Benzene
The controversy behind benzene use is going on at a vigorous pace. Researchers have revealed that benzene is a carcinogenic compound and people who have been exposed to benzene from 5-30 years are at the risk of dying from the white blood cell cancer, leukemia. Moreover, their bone marrows and blood production mechanisms can also be affected and benzene exposure has also been linked to a serious blood disease called aplastic anemia. Inhalation of benzene by pregnant mothers is seen to cause birth defects such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, etc.
Despite the different benzene uses, we have to refrain from using this aromatic compound. Due to the great number of negative effects of benzene, toulene is being used to replace benzene. Almost 300,000 people are exposed to benzene in the workplace every year. OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has set benzene guidelines allowing an exposure of maximum level of benzene to 'one part per million in the workplace during an eight hour day, and five parts per million in a fifteen minute period.' Due to the high risk factors of benzene exposure such high standards are to met.