Benzene

Sarah Jones
Research Chemist
Friday, 7th June 2019
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Two gas pumps with blurred background at a petrol station

Benzene

Benzene – Drinking Water Library | H2Olabcheck
Odour Smells like gasoline in high concentrations
Appearance Colorless
Taste Not noticeable at low concentrations
Limit 1 microgram per litre
Sources Vehicle emissions, gas and fuel spills/leaks, industrial waste
Characteristics Aromatic hydrocarbon
Health Impacts Highly toxic, carcinogenic

Table of Contents

Benzene in Drinking Water Information:

Properties

Benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that consists of only carbon and hydrogen atoms that form a single ring. It is colorless and has a distinctive odour that is detectable at concentrations above 10 mg/L. (1) It is a major derivative of petrol that contributes to its signature smell. Benzene is also used extensively in chemical production plants and is present in chemicals like DDT, insecticides, and fuels.

Sources

Benzene can be introduced into drinking water supplies from vehicle emissions, atmospheric deposition, fuel storage tank leaks and industrial processes. The more remote of a location you are in, the less of a chance there is that benzene will be present in  your water due to the fact that it is released almost exclusively from anthropogenic activities (2).

Regulations

There is a limit of 1 µg/L of benzene allowed in drinking water.

Health/Environmental Concerns

Benzene is highly toxic. It travels throughout the body and is absorbed through skin, digestive system, and respiratory system easily due to its small size and structure. It is metabolised and broken down in the liver and in bone marrow. Exposure to benzene can cause damage to the central nervous system, white blood cells, and other important systems that function in the body. It is also a carcinogenic (cancer causing) substance.

Action

Although it is highly unlikely that a consumer would be able to identify benzene in water by taste or smell in such low concetrations, it is important to protect human health and monitor benzene levels. If levels are found to be in exceedance of limits, contact your Water Service Authority immediately; this normally indicates that there is a spill or leak somewhere upstream of the water supply that must be fixed. The best way to protect drinking water from benzene is eliminating its sources. However, it can also be removed using activated carbon.



 

(1) World Health Organisation: Benzene in Drinking Water. Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. 1996. Vol 2. 

(2) National Federation of Group Water Schemes: Guide to the Parameters in the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No.2) Regulations 2007 (S. I. No. 278 of 2007)

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Benzene

Benzene – Drinking Water Library | H2Olabcheck
Odour Smells like gasoline in high concentrations
Appearance Colorless
Taste Not noticeable at low concentrations
Limit 1 microgram per litre
Sources Vehicle emissions, gas and fuel spills/leaks, industrial waste
Characteristics Aromatic hydrocarbon
Health Impacts Highly toxic, carcinogenic